The aim of this paper is to analyze the potential of X-band SAR measurements (COSMO-SkyMed and TerraSAR-X) made over bare soils for the estimation of soil moisture and surface geometry parameters at a semi-arid site in Tunisia (North Africa). Radar signals acquired with different configurations (HH
polarizations, incidence angles of 26° and 36°) are statistically compared with ground measurements (soil moisture and roughness parameters). The radar measurements are found to be highly sensitive to the various soil parameters of interest. A linear relationship is determined for the radar signals as a function of volumetric soil moisture, and a logarithmic correlation is observed between the radar signals and three surface roughness parameters: the root mean square height (Hrms), the parameter Zs = Hrms2/l
is the correlation length) and the parameter Zg = Hrms × (Hrms/l)α
(where α is the power of the surface height correlation function). The highest dynamic sensitivity is observed for Zg
at high incidence angles. Finally, the performance of different physical and semi-empirical backscattering models (IEM, Baghdadi-calibrated IEM and Dubois models) is compared with SAR measurements. The results provide an indication of the limits of validity of the IEM and Dubois models, for various radar configurations and roughness conditions. Considerable improvements in the IEM model performance are observed using the Baghdadi-calibrated version of this model.
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