The ASCAT Soil Moisture Product: A Review of its Specifications, Validation Results, and Emerging Applications
Many physical, chemical and biological processes taking place at the land surface are strongly influenced by the amount of water stored within the upper soil layers. Therefore, many scientific disciplines require soil moisture observations for developing, evaluating and improving their models. One of these disciplines is meteorology where soil moisture is important due to its control on the exchange of heat and water between the soil and the lower atmosphere. Soil moisture observations may thus help to improve the forecasts of air temperature, air humidity and precipitation. However, until recently, soil moisture observations had only been available over a limited number of regional soil moisture networks. This has hampered scientific progress as regards the characterisation of land surface processes not just in meteorology but many other scientific disciplines as well. Fortunately, in recent years, satellite soil moisture data have increasingly become available. One of the freely available global soil moisture data sets is derived from the backscatter measurements acquired by the Advanced Scatterometer (ASCAT) that is a C-band active microwave remote sensing instrument flown on board of the Meteorological Operational (METOP) satellite series. ASCAT was designed to observe wind speed and direction over the oceans and was initially not foreseen for monitoring soil moisture over land. Yet, as argued in this review paper, the characteristics of the ASCAT instrument, most importantly its wavelength (5.7 cm), its high radiometric accuracy, and its multiple-viewing capabilities make it an attractive sensor for measuring soil moisture. Moreover, given the operational status of ASCAT, and its promising long-term prospects, many geoscientific applications might benefit from using ASCAT soil moisture data. Nonetheless, the ASCAT soil moisture product is relatively complex, requiring a good understanding of its properties before it can be successfully used in applications. To provide a comprehensive overview of the major characteristics and caveats of the ASCAT soil moisture product, this paper describes the ASCAT instrument and the soil moisture processor and near-real-time distribution service implemented by the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT). A review of the most recent validation studies shows that the quality of ASCAT soil moisture product is - with the exception of arid environments -comparable to, and over some regions (e.g. Europe) even better than currently available soil moisture data derived from passive microwave sensors. Further, a review of applications studies shows that the use of the ASCAT soil moisture product is particularly advanced in the fields of numerical weather prediction and hydrologic modelling. But also in other application areas such as yield monitoring, epidemiologic modelling, or societal risks assessment some first progress can be noted. Considering the generally positive evaluation results, it is expected that the ASCAT soil moisture product will increasingly be used by a growing number of rather diverse land applications.
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