12 Sep 2023
 | 12 Sep 2023

Mapping soil moisture across the UK: assimilating cosmic-ray neutron sensors, remotely-sensed indices, rainfall radar and catchment water balance data in a Bayesian hierarchical model

Peter E. Levy and the COSMOS-UK team

Abstract. Soil moisture is important in many hydrological and ecological processes. However, data sets which are currently available have issues with accuracy and resolution. To translate remotely-sensed data to an absolute measure of soil moisture requires mapped estimates of soil hydrological properties and estimates of vegetation properties, and this introduces considerable uncertainty. We present an alternative methodology for producing daily maps of soil moisture over the UK at 2-km resolution ("SMUK"). The method is based on a simple empirical model, calibrated with five years of daily data from cosmic-ray neutron sensors at ~40 sites across the country. The model is driven by precipitation, humidity, a remotely-sensed "soil water index" satellite product, and soil porosity. The model explains around 70 % of the variance in the daily observations. The spatial variation in the parameter describing the soil water retention (and thereby the response to precipitation) was estimated using daily water balance data from ~1200 catchments with good coverage across the country. The model parameters were estimated by Bayesian calibration using a Markov chain Monte Carlo method, so as to characterise the posterior uncertainty in the parameters and predictions. We found that the simple model could emulate the behaviour of a more complex process-based model. Given the high resolution of the inputs in time and space, the model can predict the very detailed variation in soil moisture which arises from the sporadic nature of precipitation events, including the small-scale and short-term variations associated with orographic and convective rainfall. Predictions over the period 2016 to 2023 demonstrated realistic patterns following the passage of weather fronts and prolonged droughts. The model has negligible computation time, and inputs and predictions are updated daily, lagging approximately one week behind real time.

Peter E. Levy and the COSMOS-UK team

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-2041', Anonymous Referee #1, 27 Nov 2023
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Peter E. Levy, 08 Feb 2024
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2023-2041', Anonymous Referee #2, 10 Dec 2023
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Peter E. Levy, 08 Feb 2024
Peter E. Levy and the COSMOS-UK team
Peter E. Levy and the COSMOS-UK team


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Short summary
Having accurate up-to-date maps of soil moisture is important for many purposes. However, current modelled and remotely-sensed maps are rather coarse and not very accurate. Here, we demonstrate a simple but accurate approach which is closely linked to direct measurements of soil moisture at a network sites across the UK, and to the water balance (precipitation minus drainage and evaporation) measured at a large number of catchments (1212), as well as to remotely-sensed satellite estimates.