Predicting root zone soil moisture with soil properties and satellite near-surface moisture data across the conterminous United States

D. Baldwin, S. Manfreda, K. Keller, E. A.H. Smithwick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Satellite-based near-surface (0–2 cm) soil moisture estimates have global coverage, but do not capture variations of soil moisture in the root zone (up to 100 cm depth) and may be biased with respect to ground-based soil moisture measurements. Here, we present an ensemble Kalman filter (EnKF) hydrologic data assimilation system that predicts bias in satellite soil moisture data to support the physically based Soil Moisture Analytical Relationship (SMAR) infiltration model, which estimates root zone soil moisture with satellite soil moisture data. The SMAR-EnKF model estimates a regional-scale bias parameter using available in situ data. The regional bias parameter is added to satellite soil moisture retrievals before their use in the SMAR model, and the bias parameter is updated continuously over time with the EnKF algorithm. In this study, the SMAR-EnKF assimilates in situ soil moisture at 43 Soil Climate Analysis Network (SCAN) monitoring locations across the conterminous U.S. Multivariate regression models are developed to estimate SMAR parameters using soil physical properties and the moderate resolution imaging spectroradiometer (MODIS) evapotranspiration data product as covariates. SMAR-EnKF root zone soil moisture predictions are in relatively close agreement with in situ observations when using optimal model parameters, with root mean square errors averaging 0.051 [cm3 cm−3] (standard error, s.e. = 0.005). The average root mean square error associated with a 20-fold cross-validation analysis with permuted SMAR parameter regression models increases moderately (0.082 [cm3 cm−3], s.e. = 0.004). The expected regional-scale satellite correction bias is negative in four out of six ecoregions studied (mean = −0.12 [-], s.e. = 0.002), excluding the Great Plains and Eastern Temperate Forests (0.053 [-], s.e. = 0.001). With its capability of estimating regional-scale satellite bias, the SMAR-EnKF system can predict root zone soil moisture over broad extents and has applications in drought predictions and other operational hydrologic modeling purposes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)393-404
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - Mar 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


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