Multi-spectral surface emissivity as an indicator of soil water content and soil water content changes in arid soils

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Surface emissivity (ε) is used to characterize surfaces and to determine surface temperature from thermal radiation data. While in many applications it is treated as a constant, it is known to change with surface water content. Several ASTER/SEVERI based studies have speculated that diurnal changes in ε over deserts are linked to diurnal soil water content cycles resulting from water vapor adsorption during the night and subsequent evaporation during the day. This paper aims, for the first time, to validate the relationship between diurnal changes in surface ε and the changes in soil water content due to water vapor adsorption and evaporation under natural conditions. Measurements were conducted with a 6-band infrared radiometer, designed to validate ASTER bands 10–14, with study-specific recalibration for improved accuracy of ε. The evaluation included two different approaches to determine ε: using a single reference band (1B) and using the temperature/emissivity separation algorithm (TES). water content. While the TES has proven itself in many applications, it was found that for the soils studied (sand and loess) the use of 1B approach gave more consistent results for ε changes with soil water content than TES. Emissivity could be a powerful tool to characterize little studied soil water content changes in arid regions, but will require better characterization of surface properties to quantify the relationship between ε and soil water content for various soil types. Additional challenges to upscale this method include properly accounting for air irradiance and spatial heterogeneity. Meeting these main challenges will lead the way to detect small changes in soil water content under dry conditions at larger scales. Whether these are a result of water vapor adsorption or other processes, detecting such small changes in soil water content will provide new insights into desert hydrology.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number114064
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - 1 May 2024


  • Arid regions
  • Emissivity
  • Non-rainfall water inputs
  • Soil moisture
  • TES algorithm
  • Thermal infrared radiometer
  • Validation
  • Water vapor adsorption

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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