Mapping soil moisture with the OPtical TRApezoid Model (OPTRAM) based on long-term MODIS observations

Ebrahim Babaeian, Morteza Sadeghi, Trenton E. Franz, Scott Jones, Markus Tuller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


The OPtical TRApezoid Model (OPTRAM) has recently been proposed for estimation of soil moisture using only optical remote sensing data. The model relies on a physical linear relationship between the soil moisture content and shortwave infrared transformed reflectance (STR) and can be parameterized universally (i.e., a single calibration for a given area) based on the pixel distribution within the STR-Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) trapezoidal space. The main motivation for this study was to evaluate how the universal parameterization of OPTRAM works for long periods of time (e.g., several decades). This is especially relevant for uncovering the soil moisture and agricultural drought history in response to climate change in different regions. In this study, MODIS satellite observations from 2001 to 2017 were acquired and used for the analysis. Cosmic-ray neutron (CRN) soil moisture data, collected with the COsmic-ray Soil Moisture Observing System (COSMOS) at five different sites in the U.S. covering diverse climates, soil types, and land covers, were applied for evaluation of the MODIS-OPTRAM-based soil moisture estimates. The OPTRAM soil moisture estimates were further compared to the Soil Moisture Active and Passive (SMAP) (L-band), the Soil Moisture Ocean Salinity (SMOS) (L-band), and the Advanced AScatterometer (ASCAT) (C-band) soil moisture retrievals. OPTRAM soil moisture data were also analyzed for potential monitoring of agricultural drought through comparison of the OPTRAM-based Soil Water Deficit Index (OPTRAM-SWDI) with the widely-applied Crop Moisture Index (CMI). Evaluation results indicate that OPTRAM-based soil moisture estimates provide overall unbiased RMSE and R between 0.050 and 0.085 cm3 cm−3 and 0.10 to 0.70, respectively, for all investigated sites. The performance of OPTRAM is comparable with the ASCAT retrievals, but slightly less accurate than SMAP and SMOS. OPTRAM and the three microvave satellites captured CRN soil moisture temporal dynamics very well for all five investigated sites. A close agreement was observed between the OPTRAM-SWDI and CMI drought indices for most selected sites. In conclusion, OPTRAM can estimate temporal soil moisture dynamics with reasonable accuracy for a range of climatic conditions (semi-arid to humid), soil types, and land covers, and can potentially be applied for agricultural drought monitoring.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)425-440
Number of pages16
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
StatePublished - Jun 15 2018


  • Cosmic-ray neutron soil moisture
  • Drought monitoring
  • SMAP
  • SMOS
  • Soil moisture mapping
  • The OPtical TRApezoid Model (OPTRAM)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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