An Assessment of the Capabilities of the ERS Satellites' Active Microwave Instruments for Monitoring Soil Moisture Change
- Institute of Hydrology, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, OX10 8BB, UK
Abstract. The launch of the European Remote sensing Satellite (ERS-1) in July 1991 represented an important turning point in the development of Earth observation as it was the first of a series of satellites which would carry high resolution active microwave (radar) sensors which could operate through the thickest cloudeover and provide continuity of data for at least a decade. This was of particular relevance to hydrological applications, such as soil moisture monitoring, which generally require frequent satellite observations to monitor changes in state. ERS-1 and its successor ERS-2 carry the active microwave instrument (AMI) which operates in 3 modes (synthetic aperture radar, wind scatterometer and wave seatterometer) together with the radar altimeter which may all be useful for the observation of soil moisture. This paper assesses the utility of these sensors through a comprehensive review of work in this field. Two approaches to soil moisture retrieval are identified: 1) inversion modelling, where the physical effects of vegetation and soil roughness on radar backscatter are quantified through the use of multi-frequency and/or multi-polarization sensors and 2) change detection where these effects are normalized through frequent satellite observation, the residual effects being attributed to short-term changes in soil moisture. Both approaches will be better supported by the future European Envisat-l satellite which will provide both multi-polarization SAR and low resolution products which should facilitate more frequent temporal observation.