Retrieving landscape freeze/thaw state from Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) radar and radiometer measurements

Chris Derksen, Xiaolan Xu, R. Scott Dunbar, Andreas Colliander, Youngwook Kim, John S. Kimball, T. Andrew Black, Eugenie Euskirchen, Alexandre Langlois, Michael M. Loranty, Philip Marsh, Kimmo Rautiainen, Alexandre Roy, Alain Royer, Jilmarie Stephens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


Over one-third of the global land area undergoes a seasonal transition between predominantly frozen and non-frozen conditions each year, with the land surface freeze/thaw (FT) state a significant control on hydrological and biospheric processes over northern land areas and at high elevations. The NASA Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission produced a daily landscape FT product at 3-km spatial resolution derived from ascending and descending orbits of SMAP high-resolution L-band (1.4 GHz) radar measurements. Following the failure of the SMAP radar in July 2015, coarser (36-km) footprint SMAP radiometer inputs were used to develop an alternative daily passive microwave freeze/thaw product. In this study, in situ observations are used to examine differences in the sensitivity of the 3-km radar versus the 36-km radiometer measurements to the landscape freeze/thaw state during the period of overlapping instrument operation. Assessment of the retrievals at high-latitude SMAP core validation sites showed excellent agreement with in situ flags, exceeding the 80% SMAP mission accuracy requirement. Similar performance was found for the radar and radiometer products using both air temperature and soil temperature derived FT reference flags. There was a tendency for SMAP thaw retrievals to lead the surface flags due to the influence of wet snow cover conditions on both the radar and radiometer signal. Comparison with other satellite derived FT products showed those derived from passive measurements (SMAP radiometer; Aquarius radiometer; Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer - 2) retrieved less frozen area than the active products (SMAP radar; Aquarius radar).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-62
Number of pages15
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017


  • Freeze/thaw
  • Passive microwave
  • Radar
  • SMAP


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