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Evaluation of a surface energy balance method based on optical and thermal satellite imagery to estimate root‐zone soil moisture

Alburn, Nathan E., Niemann, Jeffrey D., Elhaddad, Aymn
Hydrological processes 2015 v.29 no.26 pp. 5354-5368
Landsat, algorithms, energy balance, evapotranspiration, grasslands, remote sensing, soil water, summer, temporal variation, Colorado
Various remote‐sensing methods are available to estimate soil moisture, but few address the fine spatial resolutions (e.g. 30‐m grid cells) and root‐zone depth requirements of agricultural and other similar applications. One approach that has been previously proposed to estimate fine‐resolution soil moisture is to first estimate the evaporative fraction from an energy balance that is inferred from optical and thermal remote‐sensing images [e.g. using the Remote Sensing of Evapotranspiration (ReSET) algorithm] and then estimate soil moisture through an empirical relationship to evaporative fraction. A similar approach has also been proposed to estimate the degree of saturation. The primary objective of this study is to evaluate these methods for estimating soil moisture and degree of saturation, particularly for a semi‐arid grassland with relatively dry conditions. Soil moisture was monitored at 28 field locations in south‐eastern Colorado with herbaceous vegetation during the summer months of 3 years. In situ soil moisture and degree of saturation observations are compared with estimates calculated from Landsat imagery using the ReSET algorithm. The in situ observations suggest that the empirical relationships with evaporative fraction that have been proposed in previous studies typically provide overestimates of soil moisture and degree of saturation in this region. However, calibrated functions produce estimates with an accuracy that may be adequate for various applications. The estimates produced by this approach are more reliable for degree of saturation than for soil moisture, and the method is more successful at identifying temporal variability than spatial variability in degree of saturation for this region. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.