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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Field observations of soil moisture variability across scales

  • Author(s): Famiglietti, James S;
  • Ryu, Dongryeol;
  • Berg, Aaron A;
  • Rodell, Matthew;
  • Jackson, Thomas J
  • et al.

 In this study, over 36,000 ground-based soil moisture measurements collected during the SGP97, SGP99, SMEX02, and SMEX03 field campaigns were analyzed to characterize the behavior of soil moisture variability across scales. The field campaigns were conducted in Oklahoma and Iowa in the central USA. The Oklahoma study region is sub-humid with moderately rolling topography, while the Iowa study region is humid with low-relief topography. The relationship of soil moisture standard deviation, skewness and the coefficient of variation versus mean moisture content was explored at six distinct extent scales, ranging from 2.5 m to 50 km. Results showed that variability generally increases with extent scale. The standard deviation increased from 0.036 cm3/cm3 at the 2.5-m scale to 0.071 cm3/cm3 at the 50-km scale. The log standard deviation of soil moisture increased linearly with the log extent scale, from 16 m to 1.6 km, indicative of fractal scaling. The soil moisture standard deviation versus mean moisture content exhibited a convex upward relationship at the 800-m and 50-km scales, with maximum values at mean moisture contents of roughly 0.17 cm3/cm3 and 0.19 cm3/cm3, respectively. An empirical model derived from the observed behavior of soil moisture variability was used to estimate uncertainty in the mean moisture content for a fixed number of samples at the 800-m and 50-km scales, as well as the number of ground-truth samples needed to achieve 0.05 cm3/cm3 and 0.03 cm3/cm3 accuracies. The empirical relationships can also be used to parameterize surface soil moisture variations in land surface and hydrological models across a range of scales. To our knowledge, this is the first study to document the behavior of soil moisture variability over this range of extent scales using ground-based measurements. Our results will contribute not only to efficient and reliable satellite validation, but also to better utilization of remotely sensed soil moisture products for enhanced modeling and prediction.

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