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Abstract

Frost boils in northern Alaska vary from large, 2–3-m diameter, barren non-sorted circles to completely vegetated hummocks. Summer warmth increases southwards from the coast. Average thaw-layer thickness shows the opposite trend. Frost heave shows no trend along the climate gradient but is affected by soil texture. Heave is greatest on frost boils with fine-grained sediments. Biomass increases from 183 g m−2 at the coast to 813 g m−2 in the Arctic Foothills. An aggrading permafrost table is evident in most of the frost-boil soil profiles, indicating that, over time, accumulation of plant biomass leads to reduced thaw-layer thickness. A conceptual model suggests how vegetation affects the morphology of patterned ground forms. In the coldest parts of the High Arctic well-developed frost boils do not form and there is little vegetation on frost boils or the inter-boil areas. In the warmest parts of the Low Arctic, vegetation is usually sufficient to stabilize the frost boil soils. Frost boils play an important role in Arctic ecosystems functions, including the flux of trace gases to the atmosphere, flux of water and nutrients to streams, and the recycling of important nutrients to wildlife populations. Copyright © 2004 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.