Articles | Volume 21, issue 3
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 1849–1862, 2017
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 1849–1862, 2017

Research article 29 Mar 2017

Research article | 29 Mar 2017

Estimating annual water storage variations in medium-scale (2000–10 000 km2) basins using microwave-based soil moisture retrievals

Wade T. Crow1, Eunjin Han2, Dongryeol Ryu3, Christopher R. Hain4, and Martha C. Anderson1 Wade T. Crow et al.
  • 1USDA-ARS Hydrology and Remote Sensing Laboratory, Beltsville, MD, USA
  • 2International Research Institute for Climate and Society, Columbia University, NY, USA
  • 3Melbourne School of Engineering, The University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria, Australia
  • 4NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Earth Science Branch, Huntsville, AL, USA

Abstract. Due to their shallow vertical support, remotely sensed surface soil moisture retrievals are commonly regarded as being of limited value for water budget applications requiring the characterization of temporal variations in total terrestrial water storage (dS ∕ dt). However, advances in our ability to estimate evapotranspiration remotely now allow for the direct evaluation of approaches for quantifying dS ∕ dt via water budget closure considerations. By applying an annual water budget analysis within a series of medium-scale (2000–10 000 km2) basins within the United States, we demonstrate that, despite their clear theoretical limitations, surface soil moisture retrievals derived from passive microwave remote sensing contain statistically significant information concerning dS ∕ dt. This suggests the possibility of using (relatively) higher-resolution microwave remote sensing products to enhance the spatial resolution of dS ∕ dt estimates acquired from gravity remote sensing.

Short summary
Terrestrial water storage is defined as the total volume of water stored within the land surface and sub-surface and is a key variable for tracking long-term variability in the global water cycle. Currently, annual variations in terrestrial water storage can only be measured at extremely coarse spatial resolutions (> 200 000 km2) using gravity-based remote sensing. Here we provide evidence that microwave-based remote sensing of soil moisture can be applied to enhance this resolution.