Journal cover Journal topic
Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 5, 583-592, 2005
© Author(s) 2005. This work is licensed under
the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.
01 Aug 2005
Monitoring soil wetness variations by means of satellite passive microwave observations: the HYDROPTIMET study cases
T. Lacava1, M. Greco2,3, E. V. Di Leo1, G. Martino2, N. Pergola1, F. Sannazzaro2, and V. Tramutoli1,2,3 1Istituto di Metodologie per l’Analisi Ambientale – CNR, Tito Scalo (Potenza), Italy
2Dip. di Ingegneria e Fisica dell’Ambiente, Università della Basilicata, Potenza, Italy
3CIMA – Università della Basilicata, Università di Genova, Italy
Abstract. Soil moisture is an important component of the hydrological cycle. In the framework of modern flood warning systems, the knowledge of soil moisture is crucial, due to the influence on the soil response in terms of infiltration-runoff. Precipitation-runoff processes, in fact, are related to catchment's hydrological conditions before the precipitation. Thus, an estimation of these conditions is of significant importance to improve the reliability of flood warning systems. Combining such information with other weather-related satellite products (i.e. rain rate estimation) might represent a useful exercise in order to improve our capability to handle (and possibly mitigate or prevent) hydro-geological hazards.

Remote sensing, in the last few years, has supported several techniques for soil moisture/wetness monitoring. Most of the satellite-based techniques use microwave data, thanks to the all-weather and all-time capability of these data, as well as to their high sensitivity to water content in the soil. On the other hand, microwave data are unfortunately highly affected by the presence of surface roughness or vegetation coverage within the instantaneous satellite field of view (IFOV). Those problems, consequently, strongly limit the efficiency and the reliability of traditional satellite techniques.

Recently, using data coming from AMSU (Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit), flying aboard NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) satellites, a new methodology for soil wetness estimation has been proposed. The proposed index, called Soil Wetness Variation Index (SWVI), developed by a multi-temporal analysis of AMSU records, seems able to reduce the problems related to vegetation and/or roughness effects. Such an approach has been tested, with promising results, on the analysis of some flooding events which occurred in Europe in the past.

In this study, results achieved for the HYDROPTIMET test cases will be analysed and discussed in detail. This analysis allows us to evaluate the reliability and the efficiency of the proposed technique in identifying different amounts of soil wetness variations in different observational conditions. In particular, the proposed indicator was able to document the actual effects of meteorological events, in terms of space-time evolution of soil wetness changes, for all the analysed HYDROPTIMET test cases. Moreover, in some circumstances, the SWVI was able to identify the presence of a sort of "early" signal in terms of soil wetness variations, which may be regarded as a timely indication of an anomalous value of soil water content. This evidence suggests the opportunity to use such an index in the pre-operational phases of the modern flood warning systems, in order to improve their forecast capabilities and their reliability.

Citation: Lacava, T., Greco, M., Di Leo, E. V., Martino, G., Pergola, N., Sannazzaro, F., and Tramutoli, V.: Monitoring soil wetness variations by means of satellite passive microwave observations: the HYDROPTIMET study cases, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 5, 583-592,, 2005.

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