Articles | Volume 19, issue 12
Research article
03 Dec 2015
Research article |  | 03 Dec 2015

Evaluation of soil moisture downscaling using a simple thermal-based proxy – the REMEDHUS network (Spain) example

J. Peng, J. Niesel, and A. Loew

Abstract. Soil moisture retrieved from satellite microwave remote sensing normally has spatial resolution on the order of tens of kilometers, which are too coarse for many regional hydrological applications such as agriculture monitoring and drought prediction. Therefore, various downscaling methods have been proposed to enhance the spatial resolution of satellite soil moisture products. The aim of this study is to investigate the validity and robustness of the simple vegetation temperature condition index (VTCI) downscaling scheme over a dense soil moisture observational network (REMEDHUS) in Spain. First, the optimized VTCI was determined through sensitivity analyses of VTCI to surface temperature, vegetation index, cloud, topography, and land cover heterogeneity, using data from Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer~(MODIS) and MSG SEVIRI (METEOSAT Second Generation – Spinning Enhanced Visible and Infrared Imager). Then the downscaling scheme was applied to improve the spatial resolution of the European Space Agency's Water Cycle Multi-mission Observation Strategy and Climate Change Initiative (ESA CCI) soil moisture, which is a merged product based on both active and passive microwave observations. The results from direct validation against soil moisture observations, spatial pattern comparison, as well as seasonal and land use analyses show that the downscaling method can significantly improve the spatial details of CCI soil moisture while maintaining the accuracy of CCI soil moisture. The accuracy level is comparable to other downscaling methods that were also validated against the REMEDHUS network. Furthermore, slightly better performance of MSG SEVIRI over MODIS was observed, which suggests the high potential of applying a geostationary satellite for downscaling soil moisture in the future. Overall, considering the simplicity, limited data requirements and comparable accuracy level to other complex methods, the VTCI downscaling method can facilitate relevant hydrological applications that require high spatial and temporal resolution soil moisture.

Short summary
This paper gives a comprehensive evaluation of a simple newly developed downscaling scheme using in situ measurements from REMEDHUS network, a first cross-comparison of the performance of the downscaled soil moisture from MODIS and MSG SEVIRI, an evaluation of the performance of the downscaled soil moisture at different spatial resolutions, and an exploration of the influence of LST, vegetation index, terrain, clouds, and land cover heterogeneity on the performance of VTCI.