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Yonghong Yi, John S. Kimball, Lucas A. Jones, Rolf H. Reichle, and Kyle C. McDonald

Abstract

The authors evaluated several land surface variables from the Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) product that are important for global ecological and hydrological studies, including daily maximum (T max) and minimum (T min) surface air temperatures, atmosphere vapor pressure deficit (VPD), incident solar radiation (SWrad), and surface soil moisture. The MERRA results were evaluated against in situ measurements, similar global products derived from satellite microwave [the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for Earth Observing System (EOS) (AMSR-E)] remote sensing and earlier generation atmospheric analysis [Goddard Earth Observing System version 4 (GEOS-4)] products. Relative to GEOS-4, MERRA is generally warmer (~0.5°C for T min and T max) and drier (~50 Pa for VPD) for low- and middle-latitude regions (<50°N) associated with reduced cloudiness and increased SWrad. MERRA and AMSR-E temperatures show relatively large differences (>3°C) in mountainous areas, tropical forest, and desert regions. Surface soil moisture estimates from MERRA (0–2-cm depth) and two AMSR-E products (~0–1-cm depth) are moderately correlated (R ~ 0.4) for middle-latitude regions with low to moderate vegetation biomass. The MERRA derived surface soil moisture also corresponds favorably with in situ observations (R = 0.53 ± 0.01, p < 0.001) in the midlatitudes, where its accuracy is directly proportional to the quality of MERRA precipitation. In the high latitudes, MERRA shows inconsistent soil moisture seasonal dynamics relative to in situ observations. The study’s results suggest that satellite microwave remote sensing may contribute to improved reanalysis accuracy where surface meteorological observations are sparse and in cold land regions subject to seasonal freeze–thaw transitions. The upcoming NASA Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission is expected to improve MERRA-type reanalysis accuracy by providing accurate global mapping of freeze–thaw state and surface soil moisture with 2–3-day temporal fidelity and enhanced (≤9 km) spatial resolution.

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Rolf H. Reichle, Gabrielle J. M. De Lannoy, Qing Liu, Randal D. Koster, John S. Kimball, Wade T. Crow, Joseph V. Ardizzone, Purnendu Chakraborty, Douglas W. Collins, Austin L. Conaty, Manuela Girotto, Lucas A. Jones, Jana Kolassa, Hans Lievens, Robert A. Lucchesi, and Edmond B. Smith

Abstract

The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission Level-4 Soil Moisture (L4_SM) product provides 3-hourly, 9-km resolution, global estimates of surface (0–5 cm) and root-zone (0–100 cm) soil moisture and related land surface variables from 31 March 2015 to present with ~2.5-day latency. The ensemble-based L4_SM algorithm assimilates SMAP brightness temperature (Tb) observations into the Catchment land surface model. This study describes the spatially distributed L4_SM analysis and assesses the observation-minus-forecast (OF) Tb residuals and the soil moisture and temperature analysis increments. Owing to the climatological rescaling of the Tb observations prior to assimilation, the analysis is essentially unbiased, with global mean values of ~0.37 K for the OF Tb residuals and practically zero for the soil moisture and temperature increments. There are, however, modest regional (absolute) biases in the OF residuals (under ~3 K), the soil moisture increments (under ~0.01 m3 m−3), and the surface soil temperature increments (under ~1 K). Typical instantaneous values are ~6 K for OF residuals, ~0.01 (~0.003) m3 m−3 for surface (root zone) soil moisture increments, and ~0.6 K for surface soil temperature increments. The OF diagnostics indicate that the actual errors in the system are overestimated in deserts and densely vegetated regions and underestimated in agricultural regions and transition zones between dry and wet climates. The OF autocorrelations suggest that the SMAP observations are used efficiently in western North America, the Sahel, and Australia, but not in many forested regions and the high northern latitudes. A case study in Australia demonstrates that assimilating SMAP observations successfully corrects short-term errors in the L4_SM rainfall forcing.

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Rolf H. Reichle, Gabrielle J. M. De Lannoy, Qing Liu, Joseph V. Ardizzone, Andreas Colliander, Austin Conaty, Wade Crow, Thomas J. Jackson, Lucas A. Jones, John S. Kimball, Randal D. Koster, Sarith P. Mahanama, Edmond B. Smith, Aaron Berg, Simone Bircher, David Bosch, Todd G. Caldwell, Michael Cosh, Ángel González-Zamora, Chandra D. Holifield Collins, Karsten H. Jensen, Stan Livingston, Ernesto Lopez-Baeza, José Martínez-Fernández, Heather McNairn, Mahta Moghaddam, Anna Pacheco, Thierry Pellarin, John Prueger, Tracy Rowlandson, Mark Seyfried, Patrick Starks, Zhongbo Su, Marc Thibeault, Rogier van der Velde, Jeffrey Walker, Xiaoling Wu, and Yijian Zeng

Abstract

The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission Level-4 Surface and Root-Zone Soil Moisture (L4_SM) data product is generated by assimilating SMAP L-band brightness temperature observations into the NASA Catchment land surface model. The L4_SM product is available from 31 March 2015 to present (within 3 days from real time) and provides 3-hourly, global, 9-km resolution estimates of surface (0–5 cm) and root-zone (0–100 cm) soil moisture and land surface conditions. This study presents an overview of the L4_SM algorithm, validation approach, and product assessment versus in situ measurements. Core validation sites provide spatially averaged surface (root zone) soil moisture measurements for 43 (17) “reference pixels” at 9- and 36-km gridcell scales located in 17 (7) distinct watersheds. Sparse networks provide point-scale measurements of surface (root zone) soil moisture at 406 (311) locations. Core validation site results indicate that the L4_SM product meets its soil moisture accuracy requirement, specified as an unbiased RMSE (ubRMSE, or standard deviation of the error) of 0.04 m3 m−3 or better. The ubRMSE for L4_SM surface (root zone) soil moisture is 0.038 m3 m−3 (0.030 m3 m−3) at the 9-km scale and 0.035 m3 m−3 (0.026 m3 m−3) at the 36-km scale. The L4_SM estimates improve (significantly at the 5% level for surface soil moisture) over model-only estimates, which do not benefit from the assimilation of SMAP brightness temperature observations and have a 9-km surface (root zone) ubRMSE of 0.042 m3 m−3 (0.032 m3 m−3). Time series correlations exhibit similar relative performance. The sparse network results corroborate these findings over a greater variety of climate and land cover conditions.

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