Abstract An Antarctic soil system is described by a great number of physical, chemical and biological characteristics consisting of particulate and dissolved organic matter, inorganic nutrients and metals, the bacterial, enzymatic and respiratory activity, and use of labelled dissolved glucose. This data set is examined by a multivariate analysis, hierarchical cluster analysis, with regard to different parameter groups. The resulting groups of samples are regarded as naturally occurring patterns of the system. They are compared with each other and analyzed in order to determine dominating features for a functional description of the different sites and in order to describe inter-site variations. The discussion focusses on the possible differentiation and description of subunits in patterns of soil systems, their scales and interactions.