Articles | Volume 5, issue 1
Research article
29 Apr 2016
Research article |  | 29 Apr 2016

Soil moisture sensor calibration for organic soil surface layers

Simone Bircher, Mie Andreasen, Johanna Vuollet, Juho Vehviläinen, Kimmo Rautiainen, François Jonard, Lutz Weihermüller, Elena Zakharova, Jean-Pierre Wigneron, and Yann H. Kerr

Abstract. This paper's objective is to present generic calibration functions for organic surface layers derived for the soil moisture sensors Decagon ECH2O 5TE and Delta-T ThetaProbe ML2x, using material from northern regions, mainly from the Finnish Meteorological Institute's Arctic Research Center in Sodankylä and the study area of the Danish Center for Hydrology (HOBE). For the Decagon 5TE sensor such a function is currently not reported in the literature. Data were compared with measurements from underlying mineral soils including laboratory and field measurements. Shrinkage and charring during drying were considered. For both sensors all field and lab data showed consistent trends. For mineral layers with low soil organic matter (SOM) content the validity of the manufacturer's calibrations was demonstrated. Deviating sensor outputs in organic and mineral horizons were identified. For the Decagon 5TE, apparent relative permittivities at a given moisture content decreased for increased SOM content, which was attributed to an increase of bound water in organic materials with large specific surface areas compared to the studied mineral soils. ThetaProbe measurements from organic horizons showed stronger nonlinearity in the sensor response and signal saturation in the high-level data. The derived calibration fit functions between sensor response and volumetric water content hold for samples spanning a wide range of humus types with differing SOM characteristics. This strengthens confidence in their validity under various conditions, rendering them highly suitable for large-scale applications in remote sensing and land surface modeling studies. Agreement between independent Decagon 5TE and ThetaProbe time series from an organic surface layer at the Sodankylä site was significantly improved when the here-proposed fit functions were used. Decagon 5TE data also well-reflected precipitation events. Thus, Decagon 5TE network data from organic surface layers at the Sodankylä and HOBE sites are based on the here-proposed natural log fit. The newly derived ThetaProbe fit functions should be used for hand-held applications only, but prove to be of value for the acquisition of instantaneous large-scale soil moisture estimates.

Short summary
At the Finnish Meteorological Institute in Sodankylä and the Danish Center for Hydrology, calibration functions for organic surface layers were derived for two in situ soil moisture sensors to be used in the validation of coarse-resolution soil moisture from satellites and land surface models. There was no clear difference in the data from a variety of humus types, strengthening confidence that these calibrations are applicable over a wide range of conditions as encountered in the large areas.