11 Mar 2020

11 Mar 2020

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ESSD.

Year-long, broad-band, microwave backscatter observations of an Alpine Meadow over the Tibetan Plateau with a ground-based scatterometer

Jan G. Hofste1, Rogier van der Velde1, Jun Wen2, Xin Wang3, Zuoliang Wang3, Donghai Zheng4, Christiaan van der Tol1, and Zhongbo Su1 Jan G. Hofste et al.
  • 1Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC), University of Twente, Enschede, the Netherlands
  • 2College of Atmospheric Sciences, Plateau Atmosphere and Environment Key Laboratory of Sichuan Province, Chengdu University of Information Technology, Chengdu, China
  • 3Key laboratory of Land Surface Process and Climate Change in Cold and Arid Regions, Northwest Institute of Eco-Environment and Resources, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Lanzhou, China
  • 4National Tibetan Plateau Data Center, Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China

Abstract. A ground-based scatterometer was installed on an alpine meadow over the Tibetan Plateau to study the soil moisture and -temperature dynamics of the top soil layer and air-soil interface during the period August 2017–August 2018. The deployed system measured the amplitude and phase of the ground surface radar return at hourly and half-hourly intervals over 1–10 GHz in the four linear polarization combinations (vv, hh, hv, vh). In this paper we describe the developed scatterometer system, gathered datasets, retrieval method for the backscattering coefficient (σ0), and results of (σ0) for co-polarization.

The system was installed on a 5 m high tower and designed using only commercially available components: a Vector Network Analyser (VNA), four coaxial cables, and two dual polarization broadband gain horn antennas at a fixed position and orientation. We provide a detailed description on how to retrieve the co-polarized backscattering coefficients σ0vv & σ0hh for this specific scatterometer design. To account for the particular effects caused by wide antenna radiation patterns (G) at lower frequencies, σ0 was calculated using the narrow-beam approximation combined with a mapping the function G2/R4 over the ground surface. (R is the distance between antennas and the infinitesimal patches of ground surface.) This approach allowed for a proper derivation of footprint positions and -areas, and incidence angle ranges. The frequency averaging technique was used to reduce the effects of fading on the σ0 uncertainty. Absolute calibration of the scatterometer was achieved with measured backscatter from a rectangular metal plate as reference target.

In the retrieved time-series of σ0vv & σ0hh for S-band (2.5–3.0 GHz), C-band (4.5–5.0 GHz), and X-band (9.0–10.0 GHz) we observed characteristic changes or features that can be attributed to seasonal or diurnal changes in the soil. For example a fully frozen top soil, diurnal freeze-thaw changes in the top soil, emerging vegetation in spring, and drying of soil. Our preliminary analysis on the collected σ0 time-series data set demonstrates that it contains valuable information on water- and energy exchange directly below the air-soil interface. Information which is difficult to quantify, at that particular position, with in-situ measurements techniques alone.

Availability of backscattering data for multiple frequency bands allows for studying scattering effects at different depths within the soil and vegetation canopy during the spring and summer periods. Hence further investigation of this scatterometer data set provides an opportunity to gain new insights in hydro-meteorological processes, such as freezing and thawing, and how these can be monitored with multi-frequency scatterometer observations. The data set is available via (Hofste and Su, 2020).

The effects of fading, calibration, and system stability on the uncertainty in σ0 are estimated to vary from ± 1.3 dB for X-band with vv-polarization to ± 2.7 dB for S-band with hh-polarization through the campaign. The low angular resolution of the antennas result in additional σ0 uncertainty, one that is more difficult to quantify. Estimations point out that it probably will not exceed ± 2 dB with C-band. Despite these uncertainties, we believe that the strength of our approach lies in the capability of measuring σ0 dynamics over a broad frequency range, 1–10 GHz, with high temporal resolution over a full-year period.

Jan G. Hofste et al.

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Jan G. Hofste et al.

Jan G. Hofste et al.


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Short summary
The dataset reported in this paper concerns the measurement of microwave reflections from an alpine meadow over the Tibetan Plateau. These microwave reflections where measured continuously over one year. With it, variations in soil water content due to evaporation, precipitation, drainage and soil freezing/thawing can be seen. A better understanding of the effects aforementioned processes have on microwave reflections may improve methods for estimating soil water content used by satellites.