The novel cosmic-ray soil moisture probes (CRPs) measure neutron flux density close to the earth surface. High energy cosmic-rays penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere from the cosmos and become moderated by terrestrial nuclei. Hydrogen is the most effective neutron moderator out of all chemical elements. Therefore, neutron flux density measured with a CRP at the earth surface correlates inversely with the hydrogen content in the CRP’s footprint. A major contributor to the amount of hydrogen in the sensor’s footprint is soil water content. The ability to measure changes in soil water content within the CRP footprint at a larger-than-point scale (~30 ha) and at high temporal resolution (hourly) make these sensors an appealing measurement instrument for hydrologic modeling purposes. Recent developments focus on the identification and quantification of major uncertainties inherent in CRP soil moisture measurements.
In this study, a cosmic-ray soil moisture network for the Rur catchment in Western Germany is presented. It is proposed to correct the measured neutron flux density for above ground biomass yielding vegetation corrected soil water content from cosmic-ray measurements. The correction for above ground water equivalents aims to remove biases in soil water content measurements on sites with high seasonal vegetation dynamics such as agricultural fields. Above ground biomass is estimated as function of indices like NDVI and NDWI using regression equations. The regression equations were obtained with help of literature information, ground-based control measurements, a crop growth model and globally available data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS). The results show that above ground biomass could be well estimated during the first half of the year. Seasonal changes in vegetation water content yielded biases in soil water content of ~0.05 cm³/cm³ that could be corrected for with the vegetation correction. The vegetation correction has particularly high potential when applied at long term cosmic-ray monitoring sites and the cosmic-ray rover.