TEX86 (TetraEther indeX of tetraethers consisting of 86 carbon atoms) is a sea surface temperature (SST) proxy based on the distribution of archaeal isoprenoid glycerol dialkyl glycerol tetraethers (GDGTs). In this study, we appraise the applicability of TEX86 and TEX86L in subpolar and polar regions using surface sediments. We present TEX86 and TEX86L data from 160 surface sediment samples collected in the Arctic, the Southern Ocean and the North Pacific. Most of the SST estimates derived from both TEX86 and TEX86L are anomalously high in the Arctic, especially in the vicinity of Siberian river mouths and the sea ice margin, plausibly due to additional archaeal contributions linked to terrigenous input. We found unusual GDGT distributions at five sites in the North Pacific. High GDGT-0/crenarchaeol and GDGT-2/crenarchaeol ratios at these sites suggest a substantial contribution of methanogenic and/or methanotrophic archaea to the sedimentary GDGT pool here. Apart from these anomalous findings, TEX86 and TEX86L values in the surface sediments from the Southern Ocean and the North Pacific do usually vary with overlaying SSTs. In these regions, the sedimentary TEX86-SST relationship is similar to the global calibration, and the derived temperature estimates agree well with overlaying annual mean SSTs at the sites. However, there is a systematic offset between the regional TEX86L-SST relationships and the global calibration. At these sites, temperature estimates based on the global TEX86L calibration are closer to summer SSTs than annual mean SSTs. This finding suggests that in these subpolar settings a regional TEX86L calibration may be a more suitable equation for temperature reconstruction than the global calibration. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.