Why is SMOS Drier than the South Fork In-situ Soil Moisture Network?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Victoria A Walker1, Brian K Hornbuckle1 and Michael H Cosh2, (1)Iowa State Univ, Ames, IA, United States, (2)U. S. Dept. of Agriculture, Beltsville, MD, United States
Global maps of near-surface soil moisture are currently being produced by the European Space Agency's Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) satellite mission at ~40 km. Within the next few months NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite mission will begin producing observations of near-surface soil moisture at ~10 km. Near-surface soil moisture is the water content of the first 3 to 5 cm of the soil. Observations of near-surface soil moisture are expected to improve weather and climate forecasts.

These satellite observations must be validated. We define validation as determining the space/time statistical characteristics of the uncertainty. A standard that has been used for satellite validation is in-situ measurements of near-surface soil moisture made with a network of sensors spanning the extent of a satellite footprint. Such a network of sensors has been established in the South Fork of the Iowa River in Central Iowa by the USDA ARS.

Our analysis of data in 2013 indicates that SMOS has a dry bias: SMOS near-surface soil moisture is between 0.05 to 0.10 m^3m^{-3} lower than what is observed by the South Fork network. A dry bias in SMOS observations has also been observed in other regions of North America. There are many possible explanations for this difference: underestimation of vegetation, or soil surface roughness; undetected radio frequency interference (RFI); a retrieval model that is not appropriate for agricultural areas; or the use of an incorrect surface temperature in the retrieval process.

We will begin our investigation by testing this last possibility: that SMOS is using a surface temperature that is too low which results in a drier soil moisture that compensates for this error. We will present a comparison of surface temperatures from the European Center for Medium-range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF) used to retrieve near-surface soil moisture from SMOS measurements of brightness temperature, and surface temperatures in the South Fork obtained from both tower and in-situ sensors. We will also use a long-term data set of tower and in-situ sensors collected in agricultural fields to develop a relationship between air temperature and the surface temperature relevant to the terrestrial microwave emission that is detected by SMOS.