Accurate coarse-scale soil moisture information is required for robust validation of current- and next-generation soil moisture products derived from spaceborne radiometers. Due to large amounts of land surface and rainfall heterogeneity, such information is difficult to obtain from existing ground-based networks of soil moisture sensors. Using ground-based field data collected during the Soil Moisture Experiment in 2002 (SMEX02), the potential for using distributed modeling predictions of the land surface as an upscaling tool for field-scale soil moisture observations is examined. Results demonstrate that distributed models are capable of accurately capturing a significant level of field-scale soil moisture heterogeneity observed during SMEX02. A simple soil moisture upscaling strategy based on the merger of ground-based observations with modeling predictions is developed and shown to be more robust during SMEX02 than upscaling approaches that utilize either field-scale ground observations or model predictions in isolation. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.