Fang, L; Zhan, XW; Yin, JF; Liu, JC; Schull, M; Walker, JP; Wen, J; Cosh, MH; Lakhankar, T; Collins, CH; Bosch, DD; Starks, PJ (2020). An Intercomparison Study of Algorithms for Downscaling SMAP Radiometer Soil Moisture Retrievals. JOURNAL OF HYDROMETEOROLOGY, 21(8), 1761-1775.

In the past decade, a variety of algorithms have been introduced to downscale passive microwave soil moisture observations. Some exploit the soil moisture information from optical/thermal sensing of land surface temperature (LST) and vegetation dynamics while others use active microwave (radar) observations. In this study, downscaled soil moisture data at 9- or 1-km resolution from several algorithms are intercompared against in situ soil moisture measurements to determine their reliability in an operational system. The finescale satellite data used here for downscaling the coarse-scale SMAP data are observations of LST from the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) and vegetation index (VI) from the NASA Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) for the warm seasons in 2015 and 2016. Three recently developed downscaling algorithms are evaluated and compared: a simple regression algorithm based on 9-km thermal inertial data, a data mining approach called regression tree based on 9- and 1-km LST and VI, and the NASA SMAP enhanced 9-km soil moisture product algorithm. Seven sets of in situ soil moisture data from intensive networks were used for validation, including 1) the CREST-SMART network in Millbrook, New York; 2) Walnut Gulch Watershed in Arizona; 3) Little Washita Watershed in Oklahoma; 4) Fort Cobb Reservoir Experimental Watersheds in Oklahoma; 5) Little River Watershed in Georgia; 6) the Tibetan Plateau network in China, and 7) the OzNet in Australia. Soil moisture measurements of the in situ networks were upscaled to the corresponding SMAP reference pixels at 9 km and used to assess the accuracy of downscaled products at a 9-km scale. Results revealed that the downscaled 9-km soil moisture products generally outperform the 36-km product for most in situ datasets. The linear regression algorithm using the thermal sensing based evaporative stress index (ESI) had the best agreement with the in situ measurements from networks in the contiguous United States according to the site-by-site comparison. In addition, the inertial thermal linear regression method demonstrated the lowest unbiased RMSE when comparing to the matched-up in situ datasets as well. In general, this method is promising for operational generation of fine-resolution soil moisture data product.