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Geoscientific Instrumentation, Methods and Data Systems An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Discussion papers
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 05 Nov 2019

Submitted as: research article | 05 Nov 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Geoscientific Instrumentation, Methods and Data Systems (GI).

Evaluating the suitability of the consumer low-cost Parrot Flower Power soil moisture sensor for scientific environmental applications

Angelika Xaver1, Luca Zappa1, Gerhard Rab2, Isabella Pfeil1,2, Mariette Vreugdenhil1,2, Drew Hemment3, and Wouter Arnoud Dorigo1 Angelika Xaver et al.
  • 1Department of Geodesy and Geoinformation, TU Wien, Gußhausstraße 27-29/E120, 1040 Vienna, Austria
  • 2Centre of Water Resource Systems, TU Wien, 1040 Vienna, Austria
  • 3Edinburgh Futures Institute and Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

Abstract. Citizen science, scientific work and data collection conducted by or with non-experts, is rapidly growing. Although the potential of citizen science activities to generate enormous amounts of data otherwise not feasible is widely recognized, the obtained data are often treated with caution and skepticism. Their quality and reliability is not fully trusted since they are obtained by non-experts using low-cost instruments or scientifically non-verified methods. In this study, we evaluate the performance of Parrot's Flower Power soil moisture sensor used within the European citizen science project, the GROW Observatory (GROW; The aim of GROW is to enable scientists to validate satellite-based soil moisture products at an unprecedented high spatial resolution through crowdsourced data. To this end, it has mobilized thousands of citizens across Europe in science and climate actions, including hundreds who have been empowered to monitor soil moisture and other environmental variables within twenty four high-density clusters around Europe covering different climate and soil conditions. Clearly, to serve as reference dataset, the quality of ground observations is crucial, especially if obtained from low-cost sensors. To investigate the accuracy of such measurements, the Flower Power sensors were evaluated in the lab and field. For the field trials, they were installed alongside professional soil moisture probes in the Hydrological Open Air Laboratory (HOAL) in Petzenkirchen, Austria. We assessed the skill of the low cost sensors against the professional probes using various methods. Apart from common statistical metrics like correlation, bias and root-mean-square difference, we investigated and compared the temporal stability, soil moisture memory, and the flagging statistics based on the International Soil Moisture Network (ISMN) quality indicators. We found a low inter-sensor variation in the lab and a high temporal agreement with the professional sensors in the field. The results of soil moisture memory and the ISMN quality flags analysis are in a comparable range for the low-cost and professional probes, only the temporal stability analysis shows a contrasting outcome. We demonstrate that low-cost sensors can be used to generate a dataset valuable for environmental monitoring and satellite validation and thus provide the basis for citizen-based soil moisture science.

Angelika Xaver et al.
Interactive discussion
Status: final response (author comments only)
Status: final response (author comments only)
AC: Author comment | RC: Referee comment | SC: Short comment | EC: Editor comment
Angelika Xaver et al.
Angelika Xaver et al.
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Publications Copernicus
Short summary
Soil moisture plays a key role in the hydrological cycle and the climate system. Although soil moisture can be observed by the means of satellites, ground observations are still crucial for evaluating and improving these satellite products. In this study, we investigate the performance of a consumer low-cost soil moisture sensor in the lab and in the field. We demonstrate that this sensor can be used for scientific applications, for example to create a dataset valuable for satellite validation.
Soil moisture plays a key role in the hydrological cycle and the climate system. Although soil...