Estimation of subsurface soil moisture from surface soil moisture in cold mountainous areas

Tian, Jie; Han, Zhibo; Bogena, Heye Reemt; Huisman, Johan Alexander; Montzka, Carsten; Zhang, Baoqing; He, Chansheng

Profile soil moisture (SM) in mountainous areas is important for water resource management and ecohydrological studies of downstream arid watersheds. Satellite products are useful for providing spatially distributed SM information but only have limited penetration depth (e.g., top 5 cm). In contrast, in situ observations can provide measurements at several depths, but only with limited spatial coverage. Spatially continuous estimates of subsurface SM can be obtained from surface observations using multiple methods. This study evaluates methods to calculate subsurface SM from surface SM and its application to satellite SM products, based on a SM observation network in the Qilian Mountains (China) that has operated since 2013. Three different methods were tested to estimate subsurface SM at 10 to 20, 20 to 30, 30 to 50, and 50 to 70 cm, and, in a profile of 0 to 70 cm, from in situ surface SM (0 to 10 cm): the exponential filter (ExpF), the artificial neural network (ANN), and the cumulative distribution function (CDF) matching methods. The ANN method had the lowest estimation errors (RSR), while the ExpF method best captured the temporal variation of subsurface soil moisture; the CDF method is not recommended for the estimation. Meanwhile the ExpF method was able to provide accurate estimates of subsurface soil moisture at 10 to 20 cm and for the profile of 0 to 70 cm using surface (0 to 10 cm) soil moisture only. Furthermore, it was shown that the estimation of profile SM was not significantly worse when an area-generalized optimum characteristic time (inline-formulaTopt) was used instead of station-specific inline-formulaTopt for the Qilian Mountains. The ExpF method was applied to obtain profile SM from the SMAP_L3 surface soil moisture product, and the resulting profile SM was compared with in situ observations. The ExpF method was able to estimate profile SM from SMAP_L3 surface data with reasonable accuracy (median inline-formulaR of 0.65). Also, the combination of the ExpF method and SMAP_L3 surface product can significantly improve the estimation of profile SM in mountainous areas compared to the SMAP_L4 root zone product. The ExpF method is useful and has potential for estimating profile SM from SMAP surface products in the Qilian Mountains.

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Tian, Jie / Han, Zhibo / Bogena, Heye Reemt / et al: Estimation of subsurface soil moisture from surface soil moisture in cold mountainous areas. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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