Evaluating a global soil moisture dataset from a multitask model (GSM3 v1.0) with potential applications for crop threats

Jiangtao Liu, David Hughes, Farshid Rahmani, Kathryn Lawson, Chaopeng Shen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Climate change threatens our ability to grow food for an ever-increasing population. There is a need for high-quality soil moisture predictions in under-monitored regions like Africa. However, it is unclear if soil moisture processes are globally similar enough to allow our models trained on available in situ data to maintain accuracy in unmonitored regions. We present a multitask long short-term memory (LSTM) model that learns simultaneously from global satellite-based data and in situ soil moisture data. This model is evaluated in both random spatial holdout mode and continental holdout mode (trained on some continents, tested on a different one). The model compared favorably to current land surface models, satellite products, and a candidate machine learning model, reaching a global median correlation of 0.792 for the random spatial holdout test. It behaved surprisingly well in Africa and Australia, showing high correlation even when we excluded their sites from the training set, but it performed relatively poorly in Alaska where rapid changes are occurring. In all but one continent (Asia), the multitask model in the worst-case scenario test performed better than the soil moisture active passive (SMAP) 9 km product. Factorial analysis has shown that the LSTM model's accuracy varies with terrain aspect, resulting in lower performance for dry and south-facing slopes or wet and north-facing slopes. This knowledge helps us apply the model while understanding its limitations. This model is being integrated into an operational agricultural assistance application which currently provides information to 13 million African farmers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1553-1567
Number of pages15
JournalGeoscientific Model Development
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 17 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Modeling and Simulation
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences

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