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Keywords:

  • global;
  • remote sensing;
  • soil moisture

[1] The lack of global soil moisture data has spurred research in the field of microwave remote sensing. Both passive (radiometers) and active (scatterometer) microwave data are very sensitive to the moisture content of the surface soil layer. To retrieve soil moisture, the effects of vegetation, surface roughness, and heterogeneous land cover must be taken into account. Field experiments have shown that passive microwave data at long wavelengths (L-band) are best suited for soil moisture retrieval. Nevertheless, the first global, multiannual soil moisture data set (1992–2000) has been derived from active microwave data acquired by the European Remote Sensing Satellites (ERS) ERS-1 and ERS-2 scatterometer (C-band). The retrieval algorithm is based on a change detection approach that naturally accounts for surface roughness and heterogeneous land cover. In this paper the scatterometer-derived soil moisture data are compared to gridded precipitation data and soil moisture modeled by a global vegetation and water balance model. The correlation between soil moisture and rainfall anomalies is observed to be best over areas with a dense rainfall gauge network. Also, the scatterometer-derived and modeled soil moisture agree reasonably well over tropical and temperate climates. The fact that the algorithm performs equally well for regions with summer rain and Mediterranean areas indicates that dynamic vegetation effects are correctly represented in the retrieval. More research is needed to better understand the backscattering behavior over dry (steppe, deserts) and cold (boreal zone, tundra) climatic regions. The scatterometer-derived soil moisture data are available to other research groups at http://www.ipf.tuwien.ac.at/radar/ers-scat/home.htm.