, Volume 29, Issue 4-5, pp 399-420,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Date: 10 Oct 2008

Global Soil Moisture Patterns Observed by Space Borne Microwave Radiometers and Scatterometers

Abstract

Within the scope of the upcoming launch of a new water related satellite mission (SMOS) a global evaluation study was performed on two available global soil moisture products. ERS scatterometer surface wetness data was compared to AMSR-E soil moisture data. This study pointed out a strong similarity between both products in sparse to moderate vegetated regions with an average correlation coefficient of 0.83. Low correlations were found in densely vegetated areas and deserts. The low values in the vegetated regions can be explained by the limited soil moisture retrieval capabilities over dense vegetation covers. Soil emission is attenuated by the canopy and tends to saturate the microwave signal with increasing vegetation density, resulting in a decreased sensor sensitivity to soil moisture variations. It is expected that the new low frequency satellite mission (SMOS) will obtain soil moisture products with a higher quality in these regions. The low correlations in the desert regions are likely due to volume scattering or to the dielectric dynamics within the soil. The volume scattering in dry soils causes a higher backscatter under very dry conditions than under conditions when the sub-surface soil layers are somewhat wet. In addition, at low moisture levels the dielectric constant has a reduced sensitivity in response to changes in the soil moisture content. At a global scale the spatial correspondence of both products is high and both products clearly distinguish similar regions with high seasonal and inter annual variations. Based on the global analyses we concluded that the quality of both products was comparable and in the sparse to moderate vegetated regions both products may be beneficial for large scale validation of SMOS soil moisture. Some limitations of the studied products are different, pointing to significant potential for combining both products into one superior soil moisture data set.