A methodology for surface soil moisture and vegetation optical depth retrieval using the microwave polarization difference index

M. Owe, R. De Jeu, J. Walker

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A methodology for retrieving surface soil moisture and vegetation optical depth from satellite microwave radiometer data is presented. The procedure is tested with historical 6.6 GHz H and V polarized brightness temperature observations from the scanning multichannel microwave radiometer (SMMR) over several test sites in Illinois. Results using only nighttime data are presented at this time due to the greater stability of nighttime surface temperature estimation. The methodology uses a radiative transfer model to solve for surface soil moisture and vegetation optical depth simultaneously using a nonlinear iterative optimization procedure. It assumes known constant values for the scattering albedo and roughness, and that vegetation optical depth for H-polarization is the same as for V-polarization. Surface temperature is derived by a procedure using high frequency V-polarized brightness temperatures. The methodology does not require any field observations of soil moisture or canopy biophysical properties for calibration purposes and may be applied to other wavelengths. Results compare well with field observations of soil moisture and satellite-derived vegetation index data from optical sensors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1643-1654
Number of pages12
JournalIEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Microwave radiometry
  • Remote sensing
  • Soil moisture
  • Vegetation

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