Three in one: GPS-IR measurements of ground surface elevation changes, soil moisture, and snow depth at a permafrost site in the northeastern Qinghai–Tibet Plateau

Zhang, Jiahua; Liu, Lin; Su, Lei; Che, Tao

Ground surface elevation changes, soil moisture, and snow depth are all essential variables for studying the dynamics of the active layer and permafrost. GPS interferometric reflectometry (GPS-IR) has been used to measure surface elevation changes and snow depth in permafrost areas. However, its applicability to estimating soil moisture in permafrost regions has not been assessed. Moreover, these variables were usually measured separately at different sites. Integrating their estimates at one site facilitates the comprehensive utilization of GPS-IR in permafrost studies. In this study, we run simulations to elucidate that the commonly used GPS-IR algorithm for estimating soil moisture content cannot be directly used in permafrost areas, because it does not consider the bias introduced by the seasonal surface elevation changes due to active layer thawing. We propose a solution to improve this default method by introducing modeled surface elevation changes. We validate this modified method using the GPS data and in situ observations at a permafrost site in the northeastern Qinghai–Tibet Plateau (QTP). The root-mean-square error and correlation coefficient between the GPS-IR estimates of soil moisture content and the in situ ones improve from 1.85 % to 1.51 % and 0.71 to 0.82, respectively. We also propose a framework to integrate the GPS-IR estimates of these three variables at one site and illustrate it using the same site in the QTP as an example. This study highlights the improvement to the default algorithm, which makes the GPS-IR valid in estimating soil moisture content in permafrost areas. The three-in-one framework is able to fully utilize the GPS-IR in permafrost areas and can be extended to other sites such as those in the Arctic. This study is also the first to use GPS-IR to estimate environmental variables in the QTP, which fills a spatial gap and provides complementary measurements to ground temperature and active layer thickness.

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Zhang, Jiahua / Liu, Lin / Su, Lei / et al: Three in one: GPS-IR measurements of ground surface elevation changes, soil moisture, and snow depth at a permafrost site in the northeastern Qinghai–Tibet Plateau. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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