Soil moisture (SM) is a highly relevant variable for agriculture, the emergence of floods and a key variable in the global energy and water cycle. In the last years, several satellite missions have been launched especially to derive large-scale products of the SM dynamics on the Earth. However, in situ validation data are often scarce. We developed a new method to retrieve SM of bare soil from measurements of low-cost GPS (Global Positioning System) sensors that receive the freely available GPS L1-band signals. The experimental setup of three GPS sensors was installed at a bare soil field at the German Weather Service (DWD) in Munich for almost 1.5 years. Two GPS antennas were installed within the soil column at a depth of 10 cm and one above the soil. SM was successfully retrieved based on GPS signal strength losses through the integral soil volume. The results show high agreement with measured and modelled SM validation data. Due to its non-destructive, cheap and low power setup, GPS sensor networks could also be used for potential applications in remote areas, aiming to serve as satellite validation data and to support the fields of agriculture, water supply, flood forecasting and climate change.
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