Closing the water balance with cosmic-ray soil moisture measurements and assessing their spatial variability within two semiarid watersheds

A. P. Schreiner-McGraw, Enrique Vivoni, Giuseppe Mascaro, T. E. Franz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Soil moisture dynamics reflect the complex interactions of meteorological conditions with soil, vegetation and terrain properties. In this study, intermediate scale soil moisture estimates from the cosmic-ray sensing (CRS) method are evaluated for two semiarid ecosystems in the southwestern United States: a mesquite savanna at the Santa Rita Experimental Range (SRER) and a mixed shrubland at the Jornada Experimental Range (JER). Evaluations of the CRS method are performed for small watersheds instrumented with a distributed sensor network consisting of soil moisture sensor profiles, an eddy covariance tower and runoff flumes used to close the water balance. We found an excellent agreement between the CRS method and the distributed sensor network (RMSE of 0.009 and 0.013 m3 m-3 at SRER and JER) at the hourly time scale over the 19-month study period, primarily due to the inclusion of 5 cm observations of shallow soil moisture. Good agreement was obtained in soil moisture changes estimated from the CRS and watershed water balance methods (RMSE Combining double low line 0.001 and 0.038 m3 m-3 at SRER and JER), with deviations due to bypassing of the CRS measurement depth during large rainfall events. This limitation, however, was used to show that drier-than-average conditions at SRER promoted plant water uptake from deeper layers, while the wetter-than-average period at JER resulted in leakage towards deeper soils. Using the distributed sensor network, we quantified the spatial variability of soil moisture in the CRS footprint and the relation between evapotranspiration and soil moisture, in both cases finding similar predictive relations at both sites that are applicable to other semiarid ecosystems in the southwestern US. Furthermore, soil moisture spatial variability was related to evapotranspiration in a manner consistent with analytical relations derived using the CRS method, opening up new possibilities for understanding land-atmosphere interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5343-5388
Number of pages46
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences Discussions
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 10 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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