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SwissSMEX: The Swiss Soil Moisture Experiment

Applicant Seneviratne Sonia
Number 120289
Funding scheme Project funding
Research institution Institut für Atmosphäre und Klima ETH Zürich
Institution of higher education ETH Zurich - ETHZ
Main discipline Climatology. Atmospherical Chemistry, Aeronomy
Start/End 01.06.2008 - 30.11.2011
Approved amount 258'757.00
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All Disciplines (7)

Climatology. Atmospherical Chemistry, Aeronomy
Other disciplines of Earth Sciences
Agricultural and Forestry Sciences
Hydrology, Limnology, Glaciology
Other disciplines of Environmental Sciences
Environmental Research

Keywords (19)

soil moisture; monitoring; droughts; climate change; climate variability; seasonal forecasting; weather forecasting; climate and land surface models; land-atmosphere coupling; water resources; ecosystem exchanges; Switzerland; Central Europe; Climate science; Hydrology; Meteorology; Agriculture; climate and land surface modelling; numerical weather forecasting

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary
In this project we conduct a three-year (2008-2011) soil moisture monitoring experiment in Switzerland, which allows a comprehensive assessment of soil moisture in our region. Soil moisture is a key variable of the climate system, which can impact temperature and precipitation regionally (and globally). Due to the current enhancement of temperature and soil drying associated with global warming in Central Europe, its impact on the Swiss climate is expected to become increasingly important. The relevant processes, however, are not well investigated, because detailed measurements are generally not available in most regions of the world. This is in particular the case in Central Europe and Switzerland. This project will allow for the first time to assess the spatial and temporal variability of soil moisture in Switzerland and to investigate the potential of soil moisture monitoring for the improvement of climate and meteorological modeling.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


Name Institute


Soil moisture monitoring for climate research: Evaluation of a low-cost sensor in the framework of the SwissSMEX campaign
Mittelbach Heidi, Casini Francesca, Lehner Irene, Teuling Adriaan J., Seneviratne Sonia I. (2011), Soil moisture monitoring for climate research: Evaluation of a low-cost sensor in the framework of the SwissSMEX campaign, in Journal Geophysical Research, 116, 1-11.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
SMAP Cal/Val Workshop 03.05.2011 Oxnard, CA, USA
European Geophysical Union (EGU) 04.04.2011 Vienna, Austria
Hydrologisches Seminar ZHydro2010 08.11.2010 ETH Zurich, Zürich, Switzerland
European Geosciences Union General Assembly 03.05.2010 Vienna, Austria
Hydrologisches Seminar, November 2009 25.11.2009 ETH Zurich, Zürich, Switzerland
8th International NCCR Climate Summer School 30.08.2009 Grindelwald, Switzerland
European Geophysical Union (EGU) 20.04.2009 Vienna, Austria
Seminar for user of Decagon Sensors 16.03.2009 Birmensdorf, Switzerland
Baden Workshop 15.01.2009 Baden, Switzerland
ADAGUC workshop 04.12.2008 Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Hydrologisches Seminar, November 2008 15.11.2008 ETH Zurich, Zürich, Switzerland

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Media relations: radio, television Ein Frühling wie Sommer SF Einstein German-speaking Switzerland 05.05.2011
Media relations: print media, online media Ein Frühwarnsystem für magere Jahre ETH Connect German-speaking Switzerland 01.09.2011
Media relations: radio, television Der Boden schützt uns bald nicht mehr vor Hitze. Die Schweiz durchzieht ihr Land mit Messstationen 3Sat Nano German-speaking Switzerland International 15.09.2009
Media relations: print media, online media Der Bodenfeuchte auf den Grund gehen ETH Life German-speaking Switzerland 22.08.2008
Media relations: print media, online media Der Klimaschlüssel liegt im Boden SNF Journal Horizonte Western Switzerland Italian-speaking Switzerland Rhaeto-Romanic Switzerland German-speaking Switzerland 01.12.2008

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
143688 Alpine Hydrogeology and Climate Change 01.11.2012 Project funding
129735 Alpine Hydrogeology and Climate Change 01.11.2010 Project funding
136273 CarboCount CH: Quantifying greenhouse gas fluxes and their sensitivity to climate variations: A case study in Central Europe and Switzerland 01.01.2012 Sinergia
128759 SwissSMEX-Veg: The Swiss Soil Moisture EXperiment - Soil moisture-Vegetation-Climate dynamics in Switzerland 01.04.2010 R'EQUIP


Soil moisture is a key variable of the climate system: It impacts the partitioning of the incoming radiation on land in the sensible and latent energy fluxes, with consequent effects on the near-surface climate (temperature, humidity), boundary-layer processes (e.g. convective precipitation), and potentially circulation. Moreover, as a storage element, it represents an important memory component for the regional climate system, with attendant high potential for seasonal forecasting. It is however not routinely measured in most parts of the world, particularly in Europe, where measurement datasets are scarce. In this project we propose to conduct a three-year (2008-2010) soil moisture monitoring experiment in Switzerland that will allow a comprehensive assessment of soil moisture in this region. Measurements will be conducted at 15 sites, including the Rietholzbach research catchment site ( seneviratne/research/rietholzbach), the presently operational 6 SwissFluxnet sites (, and 9 selected SwissMetNet ( stations. The focus of the measurements and their analysis will be on the following aspects: 1) the assessment of the spatial variability of soil moisture and the determination of characteristic spatial scales for intra- and inter-sites variability; 2) the assessment of the temporal variability of soil moisture and its link with the main climate drivers (radiation, precipitation); 3) the determination of the impact of soil moisture for the local and regional climate (feedbacks) and of its potential for weather and seasonal forecasting in Switzerland; 4) the investigation of regionalization approaches; 5) the evaluation of indirect measurement techniques and approaches (diagnostic estimates; satellite measurements, in particular from the SMOS mission); 6) the validation of land surface and climate models with regard to soil moisture representation in Central Europe.