Advancing Temperature Profiling Systems to Better Understand Changes in Soil and Snow

More accurate depth resolved measurements of snow and soil temperatures allow scientists to better understand water and carbon fluxes on many scales.

Overview of the Distributed Temperature Profiling (DTP) system and example of collected soil and snow temperature data. The system can be assembled in various lengths and provides measurements of snow thickness and temperature, soil temperature, and the depth of frozen/thawed soil layers.

[Reprinted under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0) from Dafflon, B., et al. “A Distributed Temperature Profiling System for Vertically and Laterally Dense Acquisition of Soil and Snow Temperature.” The Cryosphere16 (2), 719-736 (2022). DOI: 10.5194/tc-16-719-2022.]

The Science

Measuring soil and snow temperature at varying depths with high accuracy is critical to better predict and understand water and carbon fluxes. Temperature measurements of layers throughout snow and soil depths help scientists understand temperature fluctuations, heat and water fluxes, frozen and thawed soil depth, and snow thickness – all of which are essential to understand as earth’s temperature changes. However, obtaining these measurements in numerous locations with a high level of detail is difficult due to their total cost, the challenge of obtaining accurate measurements, and the potential disturbance caused by installation. This study presents the development and importance of a novel Distributed Temperature Profiling (DTP) system that makes it possible to measure soil and snow temperature at varying depths in greater detail to address these challenges.

The Impact

With climate warming, soil temperature and snowpack are predicted to change, which could largely impact the global carbon cycle, terrestrial ecosystem functioning, and freshwater resources. Scientists developed a DTP system and demonstrated its potential for measuring soil and snow temperature at varying depths with a newly developed level of detail, high accuracy, and low cost, while also minimizing energy consumption and the effects of installation. Soil and snow temperature data are gathered with a high spatial resolution to capture both changes in snow depth and the thickness of soil freezing and thawing layers. This development can help improve scientists’ ability to predict and understand the heat and water fluxes in snow and soil across watershed scales, which is essential for assessing and managing water resources and forecasting potential soil warming impacts to the global carbon cycle.


Studying ecosystems on multiple scales is required to better understand the complex behavior of the environment in a changing climate. To study thermal dynamics and temperature distribution in snowpack and soil, scientists have developed a DTP system – an efficient and easy-to-install sampling method that provides detailed and accurate temperature measurements at varying depths with a low cost. 

The system provides depth-profiles of temperature measurements at newly detailed resolutions, and also enables automated data acquisition, management, and wireless transfer to other devices and computers. A novel calibration approach confirms an accuracy of up to +/– 0.015 ºC, which will allow scientists to better understand how temperature varies in the depth of snow and soil, enabling improved predictions of how rising temperatures may influence these resources and, ultimately, ecosystem health and functioning. By using the system in various environments, scientists showed that the DTP system reliably captures temperature dynamics throughout snow depth and the depth of frozen and thawed soil layers. This study advances understanding of how the intensity and timing in surface processes impacts below-ground temperature distribution. The development of the DTP system is an important step toward optimizing environmental data accuracy and modeling at low cost.

Principal Investigator

Baptiste Dafflon
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Co-Principal Investigator

Eoin Brodie
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Program Manager

Jennifer Arrigo
U.S. Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research (SC-33)
Environmental System Science

Daniel Stover
U.S. Department of Energy, Biological and Environmental Research (SC-33)
Environmental System Science


This research is based upon work supported primarily by Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE) – Arctic and secondly by the Watershed Function Scientific Focus Area, both funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Science Biological and Environmental Research (BER) Program (award no. DE-AC02-05CH11231). 


Dafflon, B., et al. "A Distributed Temperature Profiling System for Vertically and Laterally Dense Acquisition of Soil and Snow Temperature." The Cryosphere 16 (2), 719-736  (2022).