Year-long, broad-band, microwave backscatter observations of an alpine meadow over the Tibetan Plateau with a ground-based scatterometer

J.G. Hofste*, R. Van Der Velde, Jun Wen, Xin Wang, Zuoliang Wang, Donghai Zheng, C. Van Der Tol, Zhongbo Su

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
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A ground-based scatterometer was installed on an alpine meadow over the Tibetan Plateau to study the soil moisture and temperature dynamics of the top soil layer and air–soil interface during the period August 2017–August 2018. The deployed system measured the amplitude and phase of the ground surface radar return at hourly and half-hourly intervals over 1–10 GHz in the four linear polarization combinations (vv, hh, hv, vh). In this paper we describe the developed scatterometer system, gathered datasets, retrieval method for the backscattering coefficient (σ0), and results of σ0.

The system was installed on a 5 m high tower and designed using only commercially available components: a vector network analyser (VNA), four coaxial cables, and two dual-polarization broad-band gain horn antennas at a fixed position and orientation. We provide a detailed description on how to retrieve the backscattering coefficients for all four linear polarization combinations σ0pq
, where p is the received and q the transmitted polarization (v or h), for this specific scatterometer design. To account for the particular effects caused by wide antenna radiation patterns (G) at lower frequencies, σ0 was calculated using the narrow-beam approximation combined with a mapping of the function G2/R4 over the ground surface. (R is the distance between antennas and the infinitesimal patches of ground surface.) This approach allowed for a proper derivation of footprint positions and areas, as well as incidence angle ranges. The frequency averaging technique was used to reduce the effects of fading on the σ0pq

uncertainty. Absolute calibration of the scatterometer was achieved with measurements of a rectangular metal plate and rotated dihedral metal reflectors as reference targets.

In the retrieved time series of σ0pq
for L-band (1.5–1.75 GHz), S-band (2.5–3.0 GHz), C-band (4.5–5.0 GHz), and X-band (9.0–10.0 GHz), we observed characteristic changes or features that can be attributed to seasonal or diurnal changes in the soil: for example a fully frozen top soil, diurnal freeze–thaw changes in the top soil, emerging vegetation in spring, and drying of soil. Our preliminary analysis of the collected σ0pq

time-series dataset demonstrates that it contains valuable information on water and energy exchange directly below the air–soil interface – information which is difficult to quantify, at that particular position, with in situ measurement techniques alone.

Availability of backscattering data for multiple frequency bands (raw radar return and retrieved σ0pq
) allows for studying scattering effects at different depths within the soil and vegetation canopy during the spring and summer periods. Hence further investigation of this scatterometer dataset provides an opportunity to gain new insights in hydrometeorological processes, such as freezing and thawing, and how these can be monitored with multi-frequency scatterometer observations. The dataset is available via (Hofste et al., 2021). Software code for processing the data and retrieving σ0pq via the method presented in this paper can be found under (Hofste, 2021).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2819-2856
Number of pages38
JournalEarth system science data
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jun 2021




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