Articles | Volume 19, issue 7
Research article
24 Jul 2015
Research article |  | 24 Jul 2015

Investigating temporal field sampling strategies for site-specific calibration of three soil moisture–neutron intensity parameterisation methods

J. Iwema, R. Rosolem, R. Baatz, T. Wagener, and H. R. Bogena

Abstract. The Cosmic-Ray Neutron Sensor (CRNS) can provide soil moisture information at scales relevant to hydrometeorological modelling applications. Site-specific calibration is needed to translate CRNS neutron intensities into sensor footprint average soil moisture contents. We investigated temporal sampling strategies for calibration of three CRNS parameterisations (modified N0, HMF, and COSMIC) by assessing the effects of the number of sampling days and soil wetness conditions on the performance of the calibration results while investigating actual neutron intensity measurements, for three sites with distinct climate and land use: a semi-arid site, a temperate grassland, and a temperate forest. When calibrated with 1 year of data, both COSMIC and the modified N0 method performed better than HMF. The performance of COSMIC was remarkably good at the semi-arid site in the USA, while the N0mod performed best at the two temperate sites in Germany. The successful performance of COSMIC at all three sites can be attributed to the benefits of explicitly resolving individual soil layers (which is not accounted for in the other two parameterisations). To better calibrate these parameterisations, we recommend in situ soil sampled to be collected on more than a single day. However, little improvement is observed for sampling on more than 6 days. At the semi-arid site, the N0mod method was calibrated better under site-specific average wetness conditions, whereas HMF and COSMIC were calibrated better under drier conditions. Average soil wetness condition gave better calibration results at the two humid sites. The calibration results for the HMF method were better when calibrated with combinations of days with similar soil wetness conditions, opposed to N0mod and COSMIC, which profited from using days with distinct wetness conditions. Errors in actual neutron intensities were translated to average errors specifically to each site. At the semi-arid site, these errors were below the typical measurement uncertainties from in situ point-scale sensors and satellite remote sensing products. Nevertheless, at the two humid sites, reduction in uncertainty with increasing sampling days only reached typical errors associated with satellite remote sensing products. The outcomes of this study can be used by researchers as a CRNS calibration strategy guideline.

Short summary
The cosmic-ray neutron sensor can provide soil moisture content averages over areas of roughly half a kilometre by half a kilometre. Although this sensor is usually calibrated using soil samples taken on a single day, we found that multiple sampling days are needed. The calibration results were also affected by the soil wetness conditions of the sampling days. The outcome of this study will help researchers to calibrate/validate new cosmic-ray neutron sensor sites more accurately.