The soil moisture data problem

It’s that time of year when a water wonk’s thoughts turn to the hills, to the romance of the beginnings of a winter snowpack’s accumulation. But there is a problem every year at this time – soil moisture. In particular, a lack of data about soil moisture. This matters come spring, when things start to melt, and the first water must soak into the ground. How moist was it the melt began? How much water will be soaked up by dry soil before the streams and rivers that feed our reservoirs begin running?

Sadly, our soil moisture data is problematic. That is one of the messages in a new Department of Interior report, Strengthening the Scientific Understanding of Climate Change Impacts on Freshwater Resources of the United States:

Numerous specialized soil moisture networks exist across the Nation, but there is no design for a national soil moisture network. The NASA Soil Moisture Active Passive Mission, planned for 2014, in conjunction with a robust in situ network for calibration, could provide adequate soil moisture data for many applications at regular intervals over much of the country if these efforts were implemented in a coordinated manner.