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L- band remote-sensing increases sampled levels of global soil moisture-air temperature coupling strength

Dong, Jianzhi, Crow, Wade T.
Remote sensing of environment 2019 v.220 pp. 51-58
Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity satellite, radiometry, rain, remote sensing, rhizosphere, signal-to-noise ratio, soil water, summer, temperature
Due to their shallow penetration of the soil column, remote-sensing (RS) soil moisture retrievals are often considered ill-suited for measuring the strength of soil moisture-air temperature coupling. Consequently, soil moisture proxies derived from antecedent rainfall considerations are commonly applied in their place. However, the suitably of satellite RS products has not yet been examined for newer soil moisture products derived from L-band microwave radiometry. This study globally compares correlations between monthly soil moisture and the monthly number of summertime hot days (NHD) for the case of three separate RS-based soil moisture products and a fourth soil moisture proxy derived from the standard precipitation index (SPI). Compared with SPI-based estimates, C- and X-band RS soil moisture products demonstrate a significantly (at p = 0.05 [-] confidence) weaker correlation with NHD. However, 2010–2018 L-band Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) based soil moisture-NHD correlation is generally comparable to the SPI case. Furthermore, utilizing higher-precision 2015–2018 soil moisture products from the L-band Soil Moisture Active and Passive (SMAP) mission further strengthens soil moisture-NHD correlation and leads to stronger sampled correlations than SPI over global hot-spot regions (significant at p = 0.05 [-] confidence). Combined with the general equivalence of monthly surface and root zone soil moisture anomalies, these results suggest that the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR, i.e. the relative size of soil moisture signal and random observation error variances) of RS-based surface soil moisture product, instead of their vertical measurement depth, is the key limiting factor determining their ability to quantify land-atmosphere coupling strengths. Based on this, we argue that L-band soil moisture products have reached a sufficient level of SNR to be of value for the study of land-atmosphere coupling.