Evaluation of MERRA land surface estimates in preparation for the soil moisture active passive mission

Yonghong Yi, John S. Kimball, Lucas A. Jones, Rolf H. Reichle, Kyle C. Mcdonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


The authors evaluated several land surface variables from the Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications (MERRA) product that are important for global ecological and hydrological studies, including daily maximum (Tmax) and minimum (Tmin) surface air temperatures, atmosphere vapor pressure deficit (VPD), incident solar radiation (SWrad), and surface soil moisture. TheMERRA results were evaluated against in situ measurements, similar global products derived from satellite microwave [the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for Earth Observing System (EOS) (AMSR-E)] remote sensing and earlier generation atmospheric analysis [Goddard Earth Observing System version 4 (GEOS-4)] products. Relative to GEOS-4, MERRA is generally warmer (~0.5°C for Tmin and Tmax) and drier (~50 Pa for VPD) for low- and middle-latitude regions (<50°N) associated with reduced cloudiness and increased SWrad. MERRA and AMSR-E temperatures show relatively large differences (>3°C) in mountainous areas, tropical forest, and desert regions. Surface soil moisture estimates from MERRA (0-2-cm depth) and two AMSR-E products (~0-1-cm depth) are moderately correlated (R ~ 0.4) for middle-latitude regions with low to moderate vegetation biomass. The MERRA derived surface soil moisture also corresponds favorably with in situ observations (R=0.53±0.01, p<0.001) in the midlatitudes, where its accuracy is directly proportional to the quality of MERRA precipitation. In the high latitudes,MERRA shows inconsistent soil moisture seasonal dynamics relative to in situ observations. The study's results suggest that satellite microwave remote sensing may contribute to improved reanalysis accuracy where surface meteorological observations are sparse and in cold land regions subject to seasonal freeze-thaw transitions. The upcoming NASA Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission is expected to improve MERRA-type reanalysis accuracy by providing accurate global mapping of freeze-thaw state and surface soil moisture with 2-3-day temporal fidelity and enhanced (≤9 km) spatial resolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3797-3816
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 2011


  • Land surface
  • Radiative fluxes
  • Soil moisture
  • Temperature
  • Water vapor


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