On the Detection of Remotely Sensed Soil Moisture Extremes

Ronald D. Leeper aCooperative Institute for Satellite Earth System Studies, North Carolina State University, Asheville, North Carolina

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Michael A. Palecki bNOAA/National Centers for Environmental Information, Asheville, North Carolina

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Matthew Watts cNorth Carolina State University at Raleigh, Raleigh, North Carolina

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Howard Diamond dNOAA/Air Resources Laboratory, College Park, Maryland

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Abstract

Remotely sensed soil moisture observations provide an opportunity to monitor hydrological conditions from droughts to floods. The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Climate Change Initiative has released both Combined and Passive datasets, which include multiple satellites’ measurements of soil moisture conditions since the 1980s. In this study, both volumetric soil moisture and soil moisture standardized anomalies from the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) were compared with ESA’s Combined and Passive datasets. Results from this study indicate the importance of using standardized anomalies over volumetric soil moisture conditions as satellite datasets were unable to capture the frequency of conditions observed at the extreme ends of the volumetric distribution. Overall, the Combined dataset had slightly lower measures of soil moisture anomaly errors for all regions; although these differences were not statistically significant. Both satellite datasets were able to detect the evolution from worsening to amelioration of the 2012 drought across the central United States and 2019 flood over the upper Missouri River basin. While the ESA datasets were not able to detect the magnitude of the extremes, the ESA standardized datasets were able to detect the interannual variability of extreme wet and dry day counts for most climate regions. These results suggest that remotely sensed standardized soil moisture can be included in hydrological monitoring systems and combined with in situ measures to detect the magnitude of extreme conditions.

Significance Statement

This study examines how well soil moisture extremes, wet or dry, can be detected from space using one of the lengthiest remotely sensed soil moisture datasets. Comparisons with high-quality station data from the U.S. Climate Reference Network revealed the satellite datasets could capture the frequency of extreme conditions important for climate monitoring, but often missed the absolute magnitudes of the extremes. Future research should focus on how to combine satellite and station data to improve the detection of extreme values important for monitoring.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Ronald Leeper, rdleepe2@ncsu.edu

Abstract

Remotely sensed soil moisture observations provide an opportunity to monitor hydrological conditions from droughts to floods. The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Climate Change Initiative has released both Combined and Passive datasets, which include multiple satellites’ measurements of soil moisture conditions since the 1980s. In this study, both volumetric soil moisture and soil moisture standardized anomalies from the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) were compared with ESA’s Combined and Passive datasets. Results from this study indicate the importance of using standardized anomalies over volumetric soil moisture conditions as satellite datasets were unable to capture the frequency of conditions observed at the extreme ends of the volumetric distribution. Overall, the Combined dataset had slightly lower measures of soil moisture anomaly errors for all regions; although these differences were not statistically significant. Both satellite datasets were able to detect the evolution from worsening to amelioration of the 2012 drought across the central United States and 2019 flood over the upper Missouri River basin. While the ESA datasets were not able to detect the magnitude of the extremes, the ESA standardized datasets were able to detect the interannual variability of extreme wet and dry day counts for most climate regions. These results suggest that remotely sensed standardized soil moisture can be included in hydrological monitoring systems and combined with in situ measures to detect the magnitude of extreme conditions.

Significance Statement

This study examines how well soil moisture extremes, wet or dry, can be detected from space using one of the lengthiest remotely sensed soil moisture datasets. Comparisons with high-quality station data from the U.S. Climate Reference Network revealed the satellite datasets could capture the frequency of extreme conditions important for climate monitoring, but often missed the absolute magnitudes of the extremes. Future research should focus on how to combine satellite and station data to improve the detection of extreme values important for monitoring.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Ronald Leeper, rdleepe2@ncsu.edu
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