The advent of remote sensing from unmanned aerial systems (UAS) has opened the door to more affordable and effective methods of imaging and mapping of surface geophysical properties with many important applications in areas such as coastal zone management, ecology, agriculture, and defense. We describe a study to validate and improve soil moisture content retrieval and mapping from hyperspectral imagery collected by a UAS system. Our approach uses a recently developed model known as the multilayer radiative transfer model of soil reflectance (MARMIT). MARMIT partitions contributions due to water and the sediment surface into equivalent but separate layers and describes these layers using an equivalent slab model formalism.
The model water layer thickness along with the fraction of wet surface become parameters that must be optimized in a calibration step, with extinction due to water absorption being applied in the model based on equivalent water layer thickness, while transmission and reflection coefficients follow the Fresnel formalism. In this work, we evaluate the model in both field settings, using UAS hyperspectral imagery, and laboratory settings, using hyperspectral spectra obtained with a goniometer. Sediment samples obtained from four different field sites representing disparate environmental settings comprised the laboratory analysis while field validation used hyperspectral UAS imagery and coordinated ground truth obtained on a barrier island shore during field campaigns in 2018 and 2019.
Analysis of the most significant wavelengths for retrieval indicate a number of different wavelengths in the short-wave infra-red (SWIR) that provide accurate fits to measured soil moisture content in the laboratory with normalized root mean square error (NRMSE)< 0.145, while independent evaluation from sequestered test data from the hyperspectral UAS imagery obtained during the field campaign obtained an average NRMSE = 0.169 and median NRMSE = 0.152 in a bootstrap analysis.