Soil moisture mapping using Uncrewed Arial Systems (UAS)

Ruodan Zhuang, Salvatore Manfreda, Yijian Zeng, Brigitta Szabó, Silvano F. Dal Sasso, Nunzio Romano, Eyal Ben-Dor, Paolo Nasta, Nicolas Francos, Antonino Maltese, Giuseppe Ciraolo, Fulvio Capodici, Antonio Paruta, János Mészáros, George P. Petropoulos, Lijie Zhang, Teresa Pizzolla, Zhongbo Su

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractAcademic

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Soil moisture (SM) is an essential element in the hydrological cycle influencing land-atmosphere interactions and rainfall-runoff processes. Quantification of the spatial and temporal behaviour of SM at field scale is vital for understanding water availability in agriculture, ecosystems research, river basin hydrology and water resources management. Uncrewed Arial Systems (UAS) offer an extraordinary opportunity to bridge the existing gap between point-scale field observations and satellite remote sensing providing high spatial details at relatively low costs. Moreover, UAS data can help the construction of downscaling models which can link the land surface features and SM to identify the importance level of each predictor. To optimize the usage of data from UAS surveys for generating high-resolution SM at field scale, a comparative study of various SM retrieval or downscaling methods can be beneficial.

In this study, four methods, which include the apparent thermal inertia method, Kubelka–Munk method (KM), simplified temperature-vegetation triangle method, and random forest model (RF), were compared by theory background, data requirements, operation procedures and SM estimation results. The above-mentioned models have been tested using UAS data and point measurements collected on the Monteforte Cilento site (MFC2) in the Alento river basin (Campania, Italy) which is an 8 hectares cropland area (covered by walnuts, cherry, and olive trees). A number of long-term studies on the vadose zone have been conducted across a range of spatial scales. The thermal inertia model is built upon the dependence of the thermal diffusion on SM, which were inferred from diachronic thermal infrared data. The Kubelka–Munk Model is a spectral model to retrieve surface SM using optical data. The simplified temperature–vegetation triangle model, was used to map surface SM based on simultaneous information of the vegetation coverage and surface temperature. In addition, we also introduce an SM downscaling method using the RF model and SENTINEL-1 CSAR 1km SM product.

The study is concluded with the inter-comparison of methods. The results from KM have the highest resolution which is the same as the input multispectral data. The results of RF and KM provides information only for bare soil pixels according to the principle of the model. Results show good performances for all methods, but the simplified triangle and thermal inertia model provides better performances in terms of correlation coefficient and RMSE measured with respect to in-situ measurements. In addition, it is worthy to say that the RF downscaling method reveals the features controlling the spatial distributions of SM at a different scale.

This research is a part of EU COST-Action “HARMONIOUS” and waterJPI project “iAqueduct”.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 23 May 2022


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