Impact of urban cover fraction on SMOS and SMAP surface soil moisture retrieval accuracy

Nan Ye, Jeffrey P. Walker, Christoph Rudiger, Dongryeol Ryu, Robert J. Gurney

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Both the European Space Agency's soil moisture and ocean salinity (SMOS) mission and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's soil moisture active passive (SMAP) mission employ L-band (1.413 GHz) radiometers to observe brightness temperatures at ∼40-km spatial resolution to subsequently derive global soil moisture every two to three days with a target accuracy of 0.04 m3/m3. However, the man-made structures that dominate urban areas in many of the SMOS and SMAP radiometers pixels may confound the interpretation of their radiometric observations if not taken into account, and thus, degrade the soil moisture retrieval accuracy. This paper investigates the effect that urban areas are expected to have on the SMOS and SMAP soil moisture retrieval accuracy using experimental data from the Australian airborne field campaigns performed over the past six years. Taking the total radiometric error budgets for the SMOS (3.95 K) and the SMAP (1.3 K) missions as conservative benchmarks for radiometric 'error' that can be tolerated to achieve the 0.04 m3/m3 target accuracy, urban fraction thresholds of 6.6% and 2.2% were obtained for the SMOS and SMAP pixels, respectively, under warm dry (soil moisture < 0.15 m3/m3) conditions, increasing to 16.8% and 5.2% under cold and/or wet conditions. These results have been extrapolated globally, assuming that the microwave behavior of the cities analyzed here is representative of those elsewhere, to identify the SMOS and SMAP pixels that are expected to be adversely affected by urban areas if not explicitly taken into account in retrieval algorithms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3338-3350
Number of pages13
JournalIEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019


  • Passive microwave
  • remote sensing
  • soil moisture
  • urban fraction

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