Improving SMAP freeze-thaw retrievals for pavements using effective soil temperature from GEOS-5: Evaluation against in situ road temperature data over the U.S

Academic Article


  • Seasonal freeze-thaw (FT) affects over half the northern hemisphere and impacts many key processes of the Earth System such as energy exchange, hydrology and vegetation. Nearly all past studies using spaceborne FT retrievals have focused on characterizing FT specifically for natural environments. FT in the built environment is also routinely studied and a topic of great interest, especially with regards to transportation infrastructure. Whereas natural FT process are frequently investigated using spaceborne observations, FT studies of roads are often limited to local scales, using in situ or nearby weather station data only. Comparisons between FT retrievals obtained from NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite and roads in Alaska (AK) and the Contiguous United States (CONUS) showed that spaceborne FT retrievals had good agreement with road data. But those results also indicated that NASA FT retrievals in CONUS were relatively too warm compared to road data. If SMAP FT retrievals were to be used for identifying FT transition timing for applications by the transportation community, it is also important for frozen conditions to be identified more accurately. This work is primarily concerned with improving frozen retrievals made in CONUS by calculating new Normalized Polarization Ratio (NPR) thresholds as compared to those currently used in SMAP FT. We found that focusing on a temporal subset of October through May for comparisons greatly improved the correlation between NPR and effective soil temperature (Teff, one of SMAP's ancillary datasets), often from about zero to 0.6. We then applied linear regression between NPR and Teff to obtain new NPR thresholds resulting in the FT-Roads (FT-R) product. NASA FT and FT-R were evaluated against road data at about 1000 locations in CONUS and a battery of different tests indicated that FT-R performed better under nearly all conditions compared to NASA FT. Overall, NASA FT accuracies were 69% and 80% for 6 am and 6 pm SMAP retrievals, while FT-R achieved accuracies of 79% and 82%. We also investigated the potential for using Teff for road FT (6 am, only) and found that those comparisons were even more accurate (84%). We've also quantified inter- and intraregional differences of SMAP FT performance and found that accuracy metrics vary over twice as much between geographic subdivisions (9%) as compared to between the states within a subdivision (4%). Most importantly, the main goal of improving the detection of in situ frozen conditions in CONUS was realized, with FT-R accurately detecting frozen conditions >50% more frequently than NASA FT.
  • Authors

  • Kraatz, Simon
  • Cho, Eunsang
  • Jacobs, Jennifer
  • Miller, Heather J
  • Schröder, Ronny
  • Vuyovich, Carrie M
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • February 2020
  • Published In


  • Freeze/thaw
  • Passive microwave
  • RWIS
  • Roads
  • SMAP
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • Not
  • End Page

  • Available
  • Volume

  • 237