Satellite Monitoring of Global Surface Soil Organic Carbon Dynamics Using the SMAP Level 4 Carbon Product

K. Arthur Endsley, John S. Kimball, Rolf H. Reichle, Jennifer D. Watts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Soil organic carbon (SOC) is an important metric of soil health and the terrestrial carbon balance. Short-term climate variations affect SOC through changes in temperature and moisture, which control vegetation growth and soil decomposition. We evaluated a satellite data-driven carbon model, operating under the NASA Soil Moisture Active-Passive (SMAP) mission, as a means of monitoring global surface SOC dynamics. The SMAP Level 4 Carbon (L4C) product estimates a daily global carbon budget including surface (0- to 5-cm depth) SOC. We found that the L4C mean latitudinal SOC distribution is generally consistent with alternative assessments from static soil inventory records and dynamic global vegetation models (r ≥ 0.89). Within forest systems, based on inventory data, L4C SOC is most similar in magnitude to litterfall but is correlated with coarse woody debris ((Formula presented.)) and total SOC ((Formula presented.)). L4C SOC is sensitive to seasonal and annual climate variability, with mean residence times that range from 1.5 years in the wet tropics to 17 years in the cold tundra. Incorporating soil moisture retrievals from the SMAP L-band (1.4 GHz) microwave radiometer within the L4C algorithm provides enhanced soil moisture sensitivity under low-to-moderate vegetation cover (<5 kg m−2 vegetation water content). The L-band soil moisture had the greatest impact on the L4C carbon budget in semiarid regions, which span almost 60% of the globe and account for substantial variability in the terrestrial carbon sink. The L4C operational product enables prognostic investigations into effects of recent climate trends and anomalies (e.g., droughts and pluvials) on shallow soil carbon dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2020JG006100
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2020


This study was supported with funding from NASA (NNX14AI50G, NNX16AN05G, 80NSSC17K0115, 80NSSC18K0980, and NNH17ZDA001N‐NIP).

FundersFunder number
National Aeronautics and Space Administration80NSSC17K0115, 80NSSC18K0980, NNX16AN05G, NNX14AI50G, NNH17ZDA001N‐NIP


    • carbon cycle
    • modeling
    • remote sensing
    • respiration
    • soil health
    • soil organic carbon


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