Articles | Volume 15, issue 10
Research article
17 Oct 2011
Research article |  | 17 Oct 2011

The impact of land surface temperature on soil moisture anomaly detection from passive microwave observations

R. M. Parinussa, T. R. H. Holmes, M. T. Yilmaz, and W. T. Crow

Abstract. For several years passive microwave observations have been used to retrieve soil moisture from the Earth's surface. Low frequency observations have the most sensitivity to soil moisture, therefore the current Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) and future Soil Moisture Active and Passive (SMAP) satellite missions observe the Earth's surface in the L-band frequency. In the past, several satellite sensors such as the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer-EOS (AMSR-E) and WindSat have been used to retrieve surface soil moisture using multi-channel observations obtained at higher microwave frequencies. While AMSR-E and WindSat lack an L-band channel, they are able to leverage multi-channel microwave observations to estimate additional land surface parameters. In particular, the availability of Ka-band observations allows AMSR-E and WindSat to obtain coincident surface temperature estimates required for the retrieval of surface soil moisture. In contrast, SMOS and SMAP carry only a single frequency radiometer and therefore lack an instrument suited to estimate the physical temperature of the Earth. Instead, soil moisture algorithms from these new generation satellites rely on ancillary sources of surface temperature (e.g. re-analysis or near real time data from weather prediction centres). A consequence of relying on such ancillary data is the need for temporal and spatial interpolation, which may introduce uncertainties. Here, two newly-developed, large-scale soil moisture evaluation techniques, the triple collocation (TC) approach and the Rvalue data assimilation approach, are applied to quantify the global-scale impact of replacing Ka-band based surface temperature retrievals with Modern Era Retrospective-analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) surface temperature output on the accuracy of WindSat and AMSR-E based surface soil moisture retrievals. Results demonstrate that under sparsely vegetated conditions, the use of MERRA land surface temperature instead of Ka-band radiometric land surface temperature leads to a relative decrease in skill (on average 9.7%) of soil moisture anomaly estimates. However the situation is reversed for highly vegetated conditions where soil moisture anomaly estimates show a relative increase in skill (on average 13.7%) when using MERRA land surface temperature. In addition, a pre-processing technique to shift phase of the modelled surface temperature is shown to generally enhance the value of MERRA surface temperature estimates for soil moisture retrieval. Finally, a very high correlation (R2 = 0.95) and consistency between the two evaluation techniques lends further credibility to the obtained results.