The effect of atmospheric water vapor on neutron count in the cosmic-ray soil moisture observing system

R. Rosolem, W. J. Shuttleworth, M. Zreda, T. E. Franz, X. Zeng, S. A. Kurc

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

133 Scopus citations


The cosmic-ray method for measuring soil moisture, used in the Cosmic-Ray Soil Moisture Observing System (COSMOS), relies on the exceptional ability of hydrogen to moderate fast neutrons. Sources of hydrogen near the ground, other than soil moisture, affect the neutron measurement and therefore must be quantified. This study investigates the effect of atmospheric water vapor on the cosmic-ray probe signal and evaluates the fast neutron response in realistic atmospheric conditions using the neutron transport code Monte Carlo N-Particle eXtended (MCNPX). The vertical height of influence of the sensor in the atmosphere varies between 412 and 265m in dry and wet atmospheres, respectively. Model results show that atmospheric water vapor near the surface affects the neutron intensity signal by up to 12%, corresponding to soil moisture differences on the order of 0.10m3m-3. A simple correction is defined to identify the true signal associated with integrated soil moisture that rescales the measured neutron intensity to that which would have been observed in the atmospheric conditions prevailing on the day of sensor calibration. Use of this approach is investigated with in situ observations at two sites characterized by strong seasonality in water vapor where standard meteorological measurements are readily available.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1659-1671
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Hydrometeorology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2013

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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