We coupled a radiative transfer model and a soil hydrologic model (HYDRUS 1D) with an optimization routine to derive soil hydraulic parameters, surface roughness, and soil moisture of a tilled bare soil plot using measured brightness temperatures at 1.4 GHz (L-band), rainfall, and potential soil evaporation. The robustness of the approach was evaluated using five 28-d data sets representing different meteorological conditions. We considered two soil hydraulic property models: the unimodal Mualem–van Genuchten and the bimodal model of Durner. Microwave radiative transfer was modeled by three different approaches: the Fresnel equation with depth-averaged dielectric permittivity of either 2- or 5-cm-thick surface layers and a coherent radiative transfer model (CRTM) that accounts for vertical gradients in dielectric permittivity. Brightness temperatures simulated by the CRTM and the 2-cm-layer Fresnel model fitted well to the measured ones. L-band brightness temperatures are therefore related to the dielectric permittivity and soil moisture in a 2-cm-thick surface layer. The surface roughness parameter that was derived from brightness temperatures using inverse modeling was similar to direct estimates from laser profiler measurements. The laboratory-derived water retention curve was bimodal and could be retrieved consistently for the different periods from brightness temperatures using inverse modeling. A unimodal soil hydraulic property function underestimated the hydraulic conductivity near saturation. Surface soil moisture contents simulated using retrieved soil hydraulic parameters were compared with in situ measurements. Depth-specific calibration relations were essential to derive soil moisture from near-surface installed sensors.

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