Retrieving surface soil water content using a soil texture adjusted vegetation index and unmanned aerial system images

Haibin Gu, Zhe Lin, Wenxuan Guo, Sanjit Deb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Surface soil water content (SWC) is a major determinant of crop production, and accurately retrieving SWC plays a crucial role in effective water management. Unmanned aerial systems (UAS) can acquire images with high temporal and spatial resolutions for SWC monitoring at the field scale. The objective of this study was to develop an algorithm to retrieve SWC by integrating soil texture into a vegetation index derived from UAS multispectral and thermal images. The normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and surface temperature (Ts ) derived from the UAS multispectral and thermal images were employed to construct the temperature vegetation dryness index (TVDI) using the trapezoid model. Soil texture was incorporated into the trapezoid model based on the relationship between soil texture and the lower and upper limits of SWC to form the texture temperature vegetation dryness index (TTVDI). For validation, 128 surface soil samples, 84 in 2019 and 44 in 2020, were collected to determine soil texture and gravimetric SWC. Based on the linear regression models, the TTVDI had better performance in estimating SWC compared to the TVDI, with an increase in R2 (coefficient of determination) by 14.5% and 14.9%, and a decrease in RMSE (root mean square error) by 46.1% and 10.8%, for the 2019 and 2020 samples, respectively. The application of the TTVDI model based on high-resolution multispectral and thermal UAS images has the potential to accurately and timely retrieve SWC at the field scale.

Original languageEnglish
Article number145
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalRemote Sensing
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021


  • Soil texture
  • Soil water content
  • TVDI
  • Thermal images
  • Unmanned aerial system


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