Surface Soil Moisture Retrievals from Remote Sensing: Current Status, Products & Future Trends

George Petropoulos, Gareth Ireland, Brian Barrett

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Advances in Earth Observation (EO) technology, particularly over the last two decades, have shown that soil moisture content (SMC) can be measured to some degree or other by all regions of the electromagnetic spectrum, and a variety of techniques have been proposed to facilitate this purpose.
In this review we provide a synthesis of the efforts made during the last 20 years or so towards the estimation of surface SMC exploiting EO imagery, with a particular emphasis on retrievals from microwave sensors. Rather than replicating previous overview works, we provide a comprehensive and critical exploration of all the major approaches employed for retrieving SMC in a range of different global ecosystems. In this framework, we consider the newest techniques developed within optical and thermal infrared remote sensing, active and passive microwave domains, as well as assimilation or synergistic approaches. Future trends and prospects of EO for the accurate determination of SMC from space are subject to key challenges, some of which are identified and discussed within.
It is evident from this review that there is potential for more accurate estimation of SMC exploiting EO technology, particularly so, by exploring the use of synergistic approaches between a variety of EO instruments. Given the importance of SMC in Earth’s land surface interactions and to a large range of applications, one can appreciate that its accurate estimation is critical in addressing key scientific and practical challenges in today’s world such as food security, sustainable planning and management of water resources. The launch of new, more sophisticated satellites strengthens the development of innovative research approaches and scientific inventions that will result in a range of pioneering and ground-breaking advancements in the retrievals of soil moisture from space.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)36-56
Number of pages21
JournalPhysics and Chemistry of the Earth
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2015


  • soil moisture
  • remote sensing
  • hydrology
  • climate change
  • water balance
  • land surface interactions


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