Remote monitoring of soil moisture using passive microwave-based techniques - Theoretical basis and overview of selected algorithms for AMSR-E

I. E. Mladenova, T. J. Jackson, E. Njoku, R. Bindlish, S. Chan, M. H. Cosh, T. R.H. Holmes, R. A.M. de Jeu, L. Jones, J. Kimball, S. Paloscia, E. Santi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


Satellite-based passive microwave remote sensing has been shown to be a valuable tool in mapping and monitoring global soil moisture. The Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer on the Aqua platform (AMSR-E) has made significant contributions to this application. As the result of agency and individual initiatives, several approaches for the retrieval of soil moisture from AMSR-E have been proposed and implemented. Although the majority of these are based on the same Radiative Transfer Equation, studies have shown that the resulting soil moisture estimates can differ significantly. A primary goal of this investigation is to understand these differences and develop a suitable approach to potentially improve the algorithm currently used by NASA in producing its operational soil moisture product. In order to achieve this goal, the theoretical basis of several alternative soil moisture retrieval algorithms are examined. Analysis has focused on five established approaches: the operational algorithm adopted by NASA, which is referred to as the Normalized Polarization Difference algorithm, the Single Channel Algorithm, the Land Parameter Retrieval Model, the University of Montana soil moisture algorithm, and the HydroAlgo Artificial Neural Network algorithm. Previous comparisons of these algorithms in the literature have typically focused on the retrieved soil moisture products, and employed different metrics and data sets, and have resulted in differing conclusions. In this investigation we attempt to provide a more thorough understanding of the fundamental differences between the algorithms and how these differences affect their performance in terms of range of soil moisture provided. The comparative overview presented in the paper is based on the operating versions of the source codes of the individual algorithms. Analysis has indicated that the differences between algorithms lie in the specific parameterizations and assumptions of each algorithm. The comparative overview of the theoretical basis of the approaches is linked to differences found in the soil moisture retrievals, leading to suggestions for improvements and increased reliability in these algorithms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-213
Number of pages17
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - Mar 25 2014


  • AMSR-E
  • Algorithms
  • Forward/inverse modeling
  • Passive microwave
  • Radiative transfer modeling
  • Soil moisture


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