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State of the Art in Large-Scale Soil Moisture Monitoring

Tyson E. Ochsner, Michael H. Cosh, Richard H. Cuenca, Wouter A. Dorigo, Clara S. Draper, Yutaka Hagimoto, Yann H. Kerr, Eni G. Njoku, Eric E. Small, Marek Zreda, Kristine M. Larson
Soil Science Society of America journal 2013 v.77 no.6 pp. 1888-1919
drought, environmental models, environmental monitoring, meteorological data, remote sensing, soil water, spatial variation
Soil moisture is an essential climate variable influencing land–atmosphere interactions, an essential hydrologic variable impacting rainfall–runoff processes, an essential ecological variable regulating net ecosystem exchange, and an essential agricultural variable constraining food security. Large-scale soil moisture monitoring has advanced in recent years, creating opportunities to transform scientific understanding of soil moisture and related processes. These advances are being driven by researchers from a broad range of disciplines, but this complicates collaboration and communication; and, for some applications, the science required to utilize large-scale soil moisture data is poorly developed. In this review, we describe the state of the art in large-scale soil moisture monitoring and identify some critical needs for research to optimize the use of increasingly available soil moisture data. We review representative examples of (i) emerging in situ and proximal sensing techniques, (ii) dedicated soil moisture remote sensing missions, (iii) soil moisture monitoring networks, and (iv) applications of large-scale soil moisture measurements. Significant near-term progress seems possible in the use of large-scale soil moisture data for drought monitoring. Assimilation of soil moisture data for meteorological or hydrologic forecasting also shows promise, but significant challenges related to spatial variability and model structures remain. Little progress has been made in the use of large-scale soil moisture observations within the context of ecological or agricultural modeling. Opportunities abound to advance the science and practice of large-scale soil moisture monitoring for the sake of improved Earth system monitoring, modeling, and forecasting.