Advances in soil moisture retrieval from multispectral remote sensing using unoccupied aircraft systems and machine learning techniques

Araya, Samuel N.; Fryjoff-Hung, Anna; Anderson, Andreas; Viers, Joshua H.; Ghezzehei, Teamrat A.

This study investigates the ability of machine learning models to retrieve the surface soil moisture of a grassland area from multispectral remote sensing carried out using an unoccupied aircraft system (UAS). In addition to multispectral images, we use terrain attributes derived from a digital elevation model and hydrological variables of precipitation and potential evapotranspiration as covariates to predict surface soil moisture. We tested four different machine learning algorithms and interrogated the models to rank the importance of different variables and to understand their relationship with surface soil moisture. All the machine learning algorithms we tested were able to predict soil moisture with good accuracy. The boosted regression tree algorithm was marginally the best, with a mean absolute error of 3.8 % volumetric moisture content. Variable importance analysis revealed that the four most important variables were precipitation, reflectance in the red wavelengths, potential evapotranspiration, and topographic position indices (TPI). Our results demonstrate that the dynamics of soil water status across heterogeneous terrain may be adequately described and predicted by UAS remote sensing and machine learning. Our modeling approach and the variable importance and relationships we have assessed in this study should be useful for management and environmental modeling tasks where spatially explicit soil moisture information is important.

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Araya, Samuel N. / Fryjoff-Hung, Anna / Anderson, Andreas / et al: Advances in soil moisture retrieval from multispectral remote sensing using unoccupied aircraft systems and machine learning techniques. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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Rechteinhaber: Samuel N. Araya et al.

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