Several previous studies have discussed the challenges in remotely sensed soil moisture retrievals over northern boreal environments. However, very few studies have focused solely on an evaluation of these products specifically over these areas. This study provides an in-depth evaluation of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Climate Change Initiative (CCI) Soil Moisture (SM) product and its components; ACTIVE and PASSIVE soil moisture retrievals. The performance of a spatially distributed soil moisture model (SAC-SMA) is first validated with in situ observations collected from the Finnish Meteorological Institute’s (FMI) multidisciplinary research center near the town of Sodankylä, in Northern Finland. SAC-SMA model top soil layer moisture estimates are then used for spatially distributed ESA CCI SM product evaluation. The study domain covers an area of 155 km by 140 km. Evaluation is performed for thawed/snow-free periods between 2003 and 2015. The ACTIVE product exhibits high correlations with SAC-SMA soil moisture estimates during most analyzed years. The presence of high inter-pixel soil moisture time series cross-correlation, even between pixels with very different soil/vegetation type distributions, as well as the inconsistent performance between analyzed years, is problematic. The PASSIVE product is able to more consistently capture the trend in soil moisture variation; although the trend is seemingly captured, the rapid response to precipitation events is less accurate. Our results indicate that, in contrast to other previous studies, despite the challenges, the ESA CCI SM products do exhibit reasonably good performance, and that further improvements, even with current Earth Observation methods, may be possible.
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