This paper explores the accuracy in using an artificial neural network (ANN) to estimate root-zone soil moisture (RZSM) at multiple worldwide locations using only in situ surface soil moisture (SSM) as a training dataset. The paper also addresses the transferability of the trained ANN across climatic and soil texture conditions. Data from the International Soil Moisture Network (ISMN) were collected for several networks with variable soil texture and climate classes. Several scaling, feature extraction, and training approaches were tested. An artificial neural network employing rolling averages (ANNRAV
) of SSM over 10, 30, and 90 days was developed. The results show that applying a standard scaling (SSCA) to the ANN input features improves the correlation, Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency (NSE), and root mean square error (RMSE) for 52%, 91%, and 87%, respectively, of the tested stations, compared to MinMax scaling (MMSCA). Different training sets are suggested, namely, training on data from all networks, data from one network, or data of all networks excluding one. Based on these trainings, new transferability (TranI) and contribution (ContI) indices are defined. The results show that one network cannot provide the best prediction accuracy if used alone to train the ANN. They also show that the removal of the less contributing networks enhances performance. For example, elimination of the densest network (SCAN) from the training enhances the mean correlation by 20.5% and the mean NSE by 42.5%. This motivates the implementation of a data filtering technique based on the ANN’s performance. A median, max, and min correlation of 0.77, 0.96, and 0.65, respectively, are obtained by the model after data filtering. The performances are also analyzed with respect to the covered climatic regions and soil texture, providing insights into the robustness and limitations of the approach, namely, the need for complementary information in highly evaporative regions. In fact, the ANN using only SSM to predict RZSM has low performance when decoupling between the surface and root zones is observed. The application of ANN to obtain spatialized RZSM will require integrating remote sensing-based surface soil moisture in the future.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited