Articles | Volume 20, issue 9
Research article
19 Sep 2016
Research article |  | 19 Sep 2016

Incorporation of globally available datasets into the roving cosmic-ray neutron probe method for estimating field-scale soil water content

William Alexander Avery, Catherine Finkenbiner, Trenton E. Franz, Tiejun Wang, Anthony L. Nguy-Robertson, Andrew Suyker, Timothy Arkebauer, and Francisco Muñoz-Arriola

Abstract. The need for accurate, real-time, reliable, and multi-scale soil water content (SWC) monitoring is critical for a multitude of scientific disciplines trying to understand and predict the Earth's terrestrial energy, water, and nutrient cycles. One promising technique to help meet this demand is fixed and roving cosmic-ray neutron probes (CRNPs). However, the relationship between observed low-energy neutrons and SWC is affected by local soil and vegetation calibration parameters. This effect may be accounted for by a calibration equation based on local soil type and the amount of vegetation. However, determining the calibration parameters for this equation is labor- and time-intensive, thus limiting the full potential of the roving CRNP in large surveys and long transects, or its use in novel environments. In this work, our objective is to develop and test the accuracy of globally available datasets (clay weight percent, soil bulk density, and soil organic carbon) to support the operability of the roving CRNP. Here, we develop a 1 km product of soil lattice water over the continental United States (CONUS) using a database of in situ calibration samples and globally available soil taxonomy and soil texture data. We then test the accuracy of the global dataset in the CONUS using comparisons from 61 in situ samples of clay percent (RMSE  =  5.45 wt %, R2  =  0.68), soil bulk density (RMSE  =  0.173 g cm−3, R2  =  0.203), and soil organic carbon (RMSE  =  1.47 wt %, R2  =  0.175). Next, we conduct an uncertainty analysis of the global soil calibration parameters using a Monte Carlo error propagation analysis (maximum RMSE  ∼  0.035 cm3 cm−3 at a SWC  =  0.40 cm3 cm−3). In terms of vegetation, fast-growing crops (i.e., maize and soybeans), grasslands, and forests contribute to the CRNP signal primarily through the water within their biomass and this signal must be accounted for accurate estimation of SWC. We estimated the biomass water signal by using a vegetation index derived from MODIS imagery as a proxy for standing wet biomass (RMSE  <  1 kg m−2). Lastly, we make recommendations on the design and validation of future roving CRNP experiments.

Short summary
Here we present a strategy to use globally available datasets in the calibration function used to convert observed moderated neutron counts into volumetric soil water content. While local sampling protocols are well documented for fixed probes, the use of roving probes presents new calibration challenges. With over 200 fixed probes and 10 roving probes in use globally, we anticipate this paper will serve as a keystone for the growing cosmic-ray neutron probe and hydrologic community.