The Value of SMAP for Long-Term Soil Moisture Estimation with the Help of Deep Learning

Kuai Fang, Ming Pan, Chaopeng Shen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


The Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) mission measures important soil moisture data globally. SMAP's products might not always perform better than land surface models (LSM) when evaluated against in situ measurements. However, we hypothesize that SMAP presents added value for long-term soil moisture estimation in a data fusion setting as evaluated by in situ data. Here, with the help of a time series deep learning (DL) method, we created a seamlessly extended SMAP data set to test this hypothesis and, importantly, gauge whether such benefits extend to years beyond SMAP's limited lifespan. We first show that the DL model, called long short-term memory (LSTM), can extrapolate SMAP for several years and the results are similar to the training period. We obtained prolongation results with low-performance degradation where SMAP itself matches well with in situ data. Interannual trends of root-zone soil moisture are surprisingly well captured by LSTM. In some cases, LSTM's performance is limited by SMAP, whose main issue appears to be its shallow sensing depth. Despite this limitation, a simple average between LSTM and an LSM Noah frequently outperforms Noah alone. Moreover, Noah combined with LSTM is more skillful than when it is combined with another LSM. Over sparsely instrumented sites, the Noah-LSTM combination shows a stronger edge. Our results verified the value of LSTM-extended SMAP data. Moreover, DL is completely data driven and does not require structural assumptions. As such, it has its unique potential for long-term projections and may be applied synergistically with other model-data integration techniques.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number8497052
Pages (from-to)2221-2233
Number of pages13
JournalIEEE Transactions on Geoscience and Remote Sensing
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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