CORDIS - EU research results

High Resolution Soil Moisture Mapping

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - VanderSat (High Resolution Soil Moisture Mapping)

Reporting period: 2015-12-01 to 2016-05-31

VanderSat is a leading provider of commercial high‑resolution soil moisture data, products and services. With this innovation project we aim to provide an operational framework for the production of high quality satellite derived soil moisture data with the highest possible resolution of 100 x 100 meter by:
1. Combining state of the art soil moisture algorithms from coarse scale microwave sensors (i.e. Earth Observation satellites) with our recently developed downscaling technique using data from the Sentinel missions of the European Space Agency (ESA).
2. Validating the algorithms to meet the quality requirements (consistent, stable, error characterized) as identified by the Global Climate Observation System program (GCOS) for satellite soil moisture products.
3. Applying an impact assessment of our soil moisture products in forecast models in order to quantify the true predicted value of VanderSat soil moisture for various applications including agricultural crop yield.

By achieving these goals, crop yield predictions can be up to 15% more accurate, local weather forecasts can incorporate soil moisture data, irrigation firms can automate their systems and financial institutions can assess an agricultural field’s yield based on the data from VanderSat. Commercial or academic, all will benefit.
VanderSat set out to prove that it could improve the spatial (what is the smallest feature you can see) and temporal (how quickly you can measure things) resolution of soil moisture by a landslide, in everyday life meaning that we will be able to make better predictions about the weather and about climate change and that we will be able to secure food production better than we could until now.

VanderSat can provide near real time, worldwide soil moisture information with unparalleled resolution, derived from satellite data. Unique algorithms and methodology (now patent pending) have enabled VanderSat to improve soil moisture pixel size from the state-of-the-art 25km x 25 km to 100m x 100m anywhere, updated daily. One of our key takeaways has been that rather than focusing on crop yield or weather forecast models themselves, VanderSat will improve the quality of the key input data of those models, thus boosting the performance of all forecasting models.

VanderSat’ s main focus is agriculture. The agricultural data market in its broadest sense: predicting crop yields, weather forecasts, irrigation planning and calculating agricultural yield potential across the globe. Higher spatial resolution of these measurements equals more accurate forecasting equals more commercial value. With our team of world-class scientists and business developers, VanderSat is set to be one of the world’s top remote sensing firms with a unique and, given the climate and food challenges the world faces today, increasingly important product.
Within this SME phase I project we have executed the following activities and achieved the following results.
1. Determining the technological and practical viability of the VanderSat: Within this study we applied a quality assessment on VanderSat soil moisture in order to get a better understanding of the skill of this product. For validation we compared VanderSat solution to existing alternatives. Also the spatial performance of VanderSat soil moisture was analysed over different climate regimes in order to get a better understanding of the potential use for customers for this new dataset. With this assessment we were able to both estimate the uncertainty boundaries of our product and to put it in perspective to other existing products. This validation study demonstrated that our high resolution VanderSat soil moisture is not only a visible improvement but also demonstrates a direct significant improvement in the rate at which we can process information. Next to this we also looked if and how we can integrate our data in existing models. For this we used crop yield models as a staring point as this is our primary market to target. Based on the first results from these studies, we noticed a strong predictive value of soil moisture, especially in semi arid regions. In addition, we noticed no problematic technical constraints to integrate our satellite soil moisture in existing crop yield prediction models.
2. Market study: We detailed the relevant market segments of our product, we made a SWOT/Competitive analysis and calculated our financial projections in relation to this. We were able to establish a total addressable market of 17.5 billion Euro in various market segments, of which Agrifood will be our primary market. Based on the results of our study, we estimate that VanderSat is 4-5 years ahead of our competition. However, as the data driven approach to tackling the world’s problems is growing exponentially there is a need to scale up very fast to protect our position for the future. The EU contribution has helped here significantly.
3. Intellectual Property and ‘freedom to operate’: the various activities in this domain – supported by a patent attorney – have resulted that our method has been documented and converted into a patent application with a series of well defined claims.
4. Business approach and legal structure: Within this task the legal structure and our innovation strategy have been set. For the innovation strategy the route towards market implementation of our soil moisture product and related services, including the related financial requirements, has been detailed.
Progress beyond state of art:
The main advantages of VanderSat compared to existing soil moisture mapping techniques is that VanderSat provides data at a far better resolution, on a global scale and in a near real time mode, where as existing techniques offer small scale retrospective data. In our studies we amongst others conducted a comparison analysis and cross-compared VanderSat to other satellite products for two spatially representative super sites, which are known as difficult sites for satellite sensors to retrieve reliable soil moisture because of their heterogeneous landscapes. One was located in Cabauw (NL) and the other in Petzenkirchen (A). This validation study demonstrated that our high resolution VanderSat soil moisture is not only a visible improvement but also demonstrates a direct significant improvement in the temporal skill.
Also we analyzed the spatial patterns of VanderSat soil moisture over a variety of landscapes compared it with other spatial soil moisture products. In Northern Africa at the Nile Delta we cross compared our product with the original NASA SMAP L3 soil moisture product with a resolution of 36 km. The wet Nile delta was clearly picked up by the VanderSat soil moisture product. In addition, the irrigated fields along the streams became visible in the high resolution product and are not visible at all in the coarse scale SMAP product.
Detailed information on droughts and floods can also been seen with a high degree of detail with VanderSat soil moisture. We analyzed the recent drought and flood events in Ethiopia and it showed the strong dynamic nature of soil moisture over this region, which was hit by a sequence of disasters. The spatial performance of VanderSat soil moisture has been further evaluated over regions with other climate regimes (e.g. Madagascar) and demonstrated excellent performance in both dry and wet regions.
Moreover we applied a global error assessment (i.e. triple collocation) to determine the uncertainty boundaries of VanderSat soil moisture at a global scale using independent data products. This error assessment revealed that VanderSat soil moisture is within the range of just a few Vol.% uncertainty, which is a similar uncertainty as a simple ground sensor.

VanderSat’s unique methodology is taking advantage of data from a combination of satellites (multi-sensor) as well as different kinds of data (multi-frequency). This methodology combined with specifically designed algorithms is far beyond the current state-of-the art, even in the academic arena. We aim to provide data that will provide customers easy access to our global data through an API that can be easily integrated into their models. It is a well-known business model within the geospatial and remote sensing market that has proved to be very successful (DigitalGlobe is just one example).
Assessment of the market potential has shown relevance for the following market segments: Agrifood (including irrigation), Climate Studies (a.o. ESA, NASA, UN WATER), Re-Insurance, Water cycle management, Meteorological services, NGO’s (especially human aid related), Public sector (a.o. infrastructure). In our feasibility study we have conducted thorough research into each previously defined markets. These markets are defined as ‘verticals’. In our competitive analysis we look at the following components: market size, competitor strength and weaknesses, barriers to entry and window of opportunity. When we combine the total addressable market of all verticals VanderSat is looking at a 17,5 billion Euro market. The data and analytics business is growing exponentially fueled by the IT revolution and VanderSat can provide data on a subject that happens to be one of the most important substances in the world: water. We do not underestimate competition as it can come from all sides, but no other company even comes close to our patent pending 100x100 meter resolution observation driven product. VanderSat offers near real time high resolution soil moisture data and thereby we are opening up new businesses and technological developments that were not imaginable before.
The financial projections resulting from this study project VanderSat to grow to a nearly 11.2 million Euro business over the next three years employing a staff of about 75.
High resolution soil moisture using the VanderSat methodology
Low resolution soil moisture as derived from the current state of the art NASA SMAP satellite