Potential Use of NASA's Soil Moisture Active Passive Freeze-Thaw Tool to Assist in Minnesota Seasonal Load Restriction Timing

Academic Article


  • The U.S. encompasses over 4 million roadway miles, with about half of them located in seasonal frost areas. Roads are especially susceptible to damage when the subsurface is saturated with water (i.e., spring thaw). Spring load restrictions (SLR) are important for maintaining the integrity of roads. Routine determinations of road freeze–thaw (FT) state are limited to vertically embedded temperature data probes (TDP). Although TDPs are valuable to departments of transportation for determining SLRs, TDPs only represent individual points within the road network and are costly to install and maintain. Recent updates to spaceborne technology and algorithms made physically based retrievals of FT conditions possible at improved accuracy and temporal resolution (every 3 days) and have potential use for assisting with SLRs. Although instruments such as NASA’s Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) platform cannot resolve individual roads, past comparisons have shown good correspondence with TDPs. The main objective of this study is to provide information on the potential value of NASA’s SMAP FT tool to supplement other methods for making seasonal load restriction decisions. Results are compared against data and protocols by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) at 10 sites in Minnesota, over four winter seasons (2016–2019). Results show that even when a simple criterion is used—the date of the third consecutive thaw from the SMAP afternoon retrieval—those dates typically fell within a week of MnDOT road postings (61% of the time). In addition, SMAP FT typically matches TDP FT states throughout the year (79% of the time).
  • Authors

  • Kraatz, Simon
  • Miller, Heather J
  • Poirier, Benjamin J
  • Moradi, Mahsa
  • Jacobs, Jennifer
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • May 2020
  • Has Subject Area

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 239
  • End Page

  • 249
  • Volume

  • 2674
  • Issue

  • 5