Sampling depth of L-band radiometer measurements of soil moisture and freeze-thaw dynamics on the Tibetan Plateau

Donghai Zheng* (Corresponding Author), Xin Li, Xin Wang, Zuoliang Wang, Jun Wen, R. van der Velde, Mike Schwank, Zhongbo Su

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Knowing the exact sampling depth of microwave radiometry is essential for quantifying the performance and appreciation of the applicability of satellite soil moisture products. We investigate in this study the sampling depth (δ SM ) of the L-band microwave emission under frozen and thawed soil conditions on the Tibetan Plateau. Two years of diurnal brightness temperature (T B p ) measurements at a time interval of 30 min are collected by the ELBARA-III radiometer deployed at a Tibetan meadow site. Vertical profiles of soil temperature and volumetric liquid water content (θ liq ) are measured simultaneously at soil depths up to 1 m below the surface. The impact of the θ liq measured at different depths on the microwave emission simulations is assessed using the τ-ω emission model, whereby the permittivity of frozen and thawed soil is estimated by the four-phase dielectric mixing model. It is found that: 1) the sampling depth for the effective temperature depends on the magnitude of θ liq , and is estimated to be, on average, about 50 and 15 cm for the cold dry and wet warm period, respectively, because of the seasonality in θ liq ; 2) the δ SM is determined at 2.5 cm for both frozen and thawed soil conditions during both cold and warm periods, which is shallower than the commonly used θ liq measurement depth (i.e. 5 cm) adopted for the in-situ monitoring networks across the globe; 3) the T B p simulations performed with the θ liq measurements taken at the estimated δ SM of 2.5 cm result in lower unbiased root mean squared errors, about 14% (3.16 K) and 22% (3.36 K) for the horizontal and vertical polarizations respectively, in comparison to the simulations with the θ liq measurements taken from 5 cm soil depth; and 4) the θ liq retrieved with the single channel algorithm from the ELBARA-III measured vertically polarized T B p are in better agreement with the θ liq measured at 2.5 cm than the one measured at 5 cm. These findings are crucial for developing strategies for the calibration/validation as well as the application of satellite based soil moisture products relying on the L-band radiometry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-25
Number of pages10
JournalRemote sensing of environment
Early online date1 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


  • Diurnal variations
  • Grassland
  • L-band radiometry
  • Sampling depth
  • Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP)
  • Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS)


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