Estimating spatial mean root-zone soil moisture from point-scale observations

A. J. Teuling*, R. Uijlenhoet, F. Hupet, E. E. Van Loon, P. A. Troch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)


Root zone soil moisture is a key variable in many land surface hydrology models. Often, however, there is a mismatch in the spatial scales at which models simulate soil moisture and at which soil moisture is observed. This complicates model validation. The increased availability of detailed datasets on space-time variability of root-zone soil moisture allows for a posteriori analysis of the uncertainties in the relation between point-scale observations and the spatial mean. In this paper we analyze three comprehensive datasets from three different regions. We identify different strategies to select observation sites. For instance, sites can be located randomly or according to the rank stability concept. For each strategy, we present methods to quantify the uncertainty that is associated with this strategy. In general there is a large correspondence between the different datasets with respect to the relative uncertainties for the different strategies. For all datasets, the uncertainty can be strongly reduced if some information is available that relates soil moisture content at that site to the spatial mean. However this works best if the space-time dynamics of the soil moisture field are known. Selection of the site closest to the spatial mean on a single random date only leads to minor reduction of the uncertainty with respect to the spatial mean over seasonal timescales. Since soil moisture variability is the result of a complex interaction between soil, vegetation, and landscape characteristics, the soil moisture field will be correlated with some of these characteristics. Using available information, we show that the correlation with leaf area index or a wetness coefficient alone is insufficient to predict if a site is representative for the spatial mean soil moisture content.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)755-767
Number of pages13
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes


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