DOI: 10.3390/w16060832 ISSN: 2073-4441

Soil Moisture Forecast Using Transfer Learning: An Application in the High Tropical Andes

Diego Escobar-González, Marcos Villacís, Sebastián Páez-Bimos, Gabriel Jácome, Juan González-Vergara, Claudia Encalada, Veerle Vanacker
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Aquatic Science
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Biochemistry

Soil moisture is a critical variable in the hydrological cycle and the climate system, significantly impacting water resources, ecosystem functioning, and the occurrence of extreme events. However, soil moisture data are often scarce, and soil water dynamics are not fully understood in mountainous regions such as the tropical Andes of Ecuador. This study aims to model and predict soil moisture dynamics using in situ-collected hydrometeorological data for training and data-driven machine-learning techniques. Our results highlight the fundamental role of vegetation in controlling soil moisture dynamics and significant differences in soil water balance related to vegetation types and topography. A baseline model was developed to predict soil moisture dynamics using neural network techniques. Subsequently, by employing transfer-learning techniques, this model was effectively applied to different soil horizons and profiles, demonstrating its generalization capacity and adaptability. The use of neural network schemes and knowledge transfer techniques allowed us to develop predictive models for soil moisture trained on in situ-collected hydrometeorological data. The transfer-learning technique, which leveraged the knowledge from a pre-trained model to a model with a similar domain, yielded results with errors on the order of 1×10−6<ϵ<1×10−3. For the training data, the forecast of the base network demonstrated excellent results, with the lowest magnitude error metric RMSE equal to 4.77×10−6, and NSE and KGE both equal to 0.97. These models show promising potential to accurately predict short-term soil moisture dynamics with potential applications for natural hazard monitoring in mountainous regions.

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