Predicting the spatial distribution of soil moisture in mountain environments is confounded by multiple factors, including complex topography, spatial variably of soil texture, sub-surface flow paths, and snow-soil interactions. While remote-sensing tools such as passive-microwave monitoring can measure spatial variability of soil moisture, they only capture near-surface soil layers. Large-scale sensor networks are increasingly providing soil-moisture measurements at high temporal resolution across a broader range of depths than are accessible from remote sensing. It may be possible to combine these in-situ measurements with high-resolution LIDAR topography and canopy cover to estimate the spatial distribution of soil moisture at high spatial resolution at multiple depths. We study the feasibility of this approach using six years (2009-2014) of daily volumetric water content measurements at 10-, 30-, and 60-cm depths from the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory. A non-parametric, multivariate regression algorithm, Random Forest, was used to predict the spatial distribution of depth-integrated soil-water storage, based on the in-situ measurements and a combination of node attributes (topographic wetness, northness, elevation, soil texture, and location with respect to canopy cover). We observe predictable patterns of predictor accuracy and independent variable ranking during the six-year study period. Predictor accuracy is highest during the snow-cover and early recession periods but declines during the dry period. Soil texture has consistently high feature importance. Other landscape attributes exhibit seasonal trends: northness peaks during the wet-up period, and elevation and topographic-wetness index peak during the recession and dry period, respectively.
Oroza, C.; Bales, R. C.; Zheng, Z.; Glaser, S. D. (2017): Spatial Variability of Soil-Water Storage in the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory: Measurement and Prediction. Fall Meeting, American Geophysical Union, December 2017. Abstract H41G-1539..