Required sampling density of ground-based soil moisture and brightness temperature observations for calibration and validation of L-band satellite observations based on a virtual reality

Lv, Shaoning; Schalge, Bernd; Saavedra Garfias, Pablo; Simmer, Clemens

Microwave remote sensing is the most promising tool for monitoring near-surface soil moisture distributions globally. With the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) and Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) missions in orbit, considerable efforts are being made to evaluate derived soil moisture products via ground observations, microwave transfer simulation, and independent remote sensing retrievals. Due to the large footprint of the satellite radiometers of about 40 km in diameter and the spatial heterogeneity of soil moisture, minimum sampling densities for soil moisture are required to challenge the targeted precision. Here we use 400 m resolution simulations with the regional Terrestrial System Modeling Platform (TerrSysMP) and its coupling with the Community Microwave Emission Modelling platform (CMEM) to quantify the maximum sampling distance allowed for soil moisture and brightness temperature validation. Our analysis suggests that an overall sampling distance of finer than 6 km is required to validate the targeted accuracy of 0.04 cminline-formula3 cminline-formula−3 with a 70 % confidence level in SMOS and SMAP estimates over typical mid-latitude European regions. The maximum allowed sampling distance depends on the land-surface heterogeneity and the meteorological situation, which influences the soil moisture patterns, and ranges from about 6 to 17 km for a 70 % confidence level for a typical year. At the maximum allowed sampling distance on a 70 % confidence level, the accuracy of footprint-averaged soil moisture is equal to or better than brightness temperature estimates over the same area. Estimates strongly deteriorate with larger sampling distances. For the evaluation of the smaller footprints of the active and active–passive products of SMAP the required sampling densities increase; e.g., when a grid resolution of 3 km diameter is sampled by three sites of footprints of 9 km sampled by five sites required, only 50 %–60 % of the pixels have a sampling error below the nominal values. The required minimum sampling densities for ground-based radiometer networks to estimate footprint-averaged brightness temperature are higher than for soil moisture due to the non-linearities of radiative transfer, and only weakly correlated in space and time. This study provides a basis for a better understanding of the sometimes strong mismatches between derived satellite soil moisture products and ground-based measurements.

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Lv, Shaoning / Schalge, Bernd / Saavedra Garfias, Pablo / et al: Required sampling density of ground-based soil moisture and brightness temperature observations for calibration and validation of L-band satellite observations based on a virtual reality. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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