New DEMs may stimulate significant advancements in remote sensing of soil moisture



From Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo to increasing corn yields in Kansas to greenhouse gas flux in the Arctic, the importance of soil moisture is endemic to world affairs and merits the considerable attention it receives from the scientific community. This importance can hardly be overstated, though it often goes unstated.

Soil moisture is one of the key variables in a variety of broad areas critical to the conduct of societies' economic and political affairs and their well-being; these include the health of agricultural crops, global climate dynamics, military trafficability planning, and hazards such as flooding and forest fires. Unfortunately the in situ measurement of the spatial distribution of soil moisture on a watershed-scale is practically impossible. And despite decades of international effort, a satellite remote sensing technique that can reliably measure soil moisture with a spatial resolution of meters has not yet been identified or implemented. Due to the lack of suitable measurement techniques and, until recently digital elevation models (DEMs), our ability to understand and predict soil moisture dynamics through modeling has largely remained crippled from birth [Grayson and Bloschl, 200l].