Landscape complexity and soil moisture variation in south Georgia, USA, for remote sensing applications

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This research addressed the temporal and spatial variation of soil moisture (SM) in a heterogeneous landscape. The research objective was to investigate soil moisture variation in eight homogeneous 30 by 30 m plots, similar to the pixel size of a Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) or Enhanced Thematic Mapper plus (ETM+) image. The plots were adjacent to eight stations of an in situ soil moisture network operated by the United States Department of Agriculture-Agriculture Research Service USDA-ARS in Tifton, GA. We also studied five adjacent agricultural fields to examine the effect of different landuses/land covers (LULC) (grass, orchard, peanuts, cotton and bare soil) on the temporal and spatial variation of soil moisture. Soil moisture field data were collected on eight occasions throughout 2005 and January 2006 to establish comparisons within and among eight homogeneous plots. Consistently throughout time, analysis of variance (ANOVA) showed high variation in the soil moisture behavior among the plots and high homogeneity in the soil moisture behavior within them. A precipitation analysis for the eight sampling dates throughout the year 2005 showed similar rainfall conditions for the eight study plots. Therefore, soil moisture variation among locations was explained by in situ local conditions. Temporal stability geostatistical analysis showed that soil moisture has high temporal stability within the small plots and that a single point reading can be used to monitor soil moisture status for the plot within a maximum 3% volume/volume (v/v) soil moisture variation. Similarly, t-statistic analysis showed that soil moisture status in the upper soil layer changes within 24 h. We found statistical differences in the soil moisture between the different LULC in the agricultural fields as well as statistical differences between these fields and the adjacent 30 by 30 m plots. From this analysis, it was demonstrated that spatial proximity is not enough to produce similar soil moisture, since t-test’s among adjacent plots with different LULCs showed significant differences. These results confirm that a remote sensing approach that considers homogeneous LULC landscape fragments can be used to identify landscape units of similar soil moisture behavior under heterogeneous landscapes. In addition, the in situ USDA-ARS network will serve better in remote sensing studies in which sensors with fine spatial resolution are evaluated. This study is a first step towards identifying landscape units that can be monitored using the single point reading of the USDA-ARS stations network.