Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science

The SwissSMEX project: Measuring soil moisture in Switzerland for climate research


(27.04.2015): Congratulations to Peter Greve, who successfully defended his PhD thesis!

ETH annual report (12/2014): Our research highlighted in 2014 ETH annual report

(09/2014): Congratulations to Peter Greve who was awarded an Outstanding Student Poster Award from the European Geosciences Union

(31.01.2014): Congratulations to Benoit Guillod, who successfully defended his PhD thesis!

ETH (30.01.2014): Prof. Sonia Seneviratne is awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant

GEWEX News (11/2013): GEWEX welcomes the new Co-Chairs of the GEWEX Scientific Steering Group (SSG)

(05.08.2013): Prof. Sonia Seneviratne receives the James B. Macelwane Medal of the American Geophysical Union (AGU web site; EOS announcement)

(07.05.2013): Congratulations to Rene Orth, who successfully defended his PhD thesis!

ETH annual report (12/2012): Our research cited in the 2012 ETH annual report

ETH Life (07.12.2012): Neue Professoren an der ETH Zürich

ETH Life (07.12.2012): New professors at the ETH Zurich appointed

(23.11.2012): Congratulations to Ruth Lorenz, who successfully defended her PhD thesis!

WCRP 4th reanalysis meeting (09.05.2012): Brigitte Mueller makes presentation as EGU young ambassador [EGU ambassadors]

(27.01.2012): Congratulations to Brigitte Mueller, who successfully defended her PhD thesis!

IPCC SREX Summary for Policymakers (18.11.2011): Release of IPCC SREX Summary for Policymakers; Core writing team; Video

(02.11.2011): Congratulations to Heidi Mittelbach, who successfully defended her PhD thesis!

(12.10.2011): Congratulations to Paulo Oliveira who successfully defended his PhD thesis!

(18.09.2009): Congratulations to Eric Jäger, who successfully defended his PhD thesis!

Media & Reports

SRF (04.07.2015): Bald jeder zweite Sommer ein Rekordsommer?

Terre et Nature (04.06.2015): La climatologie est un domaine en plein essor

ETH Life (05.03.2015): Wie Regen von der Bodenfeuchte abhängt; How rain is dependent on soil moisture

ETH News (14.09.2014): Klimafolgen-Faustregel umgekrempelt; Rules of thumb turned upside down

Nature (23.06.2014): Unploughed fields take edge off heat waves

ETH Life (23.06.2014): Stroh-Albedo mildert Hitzeextreme; Straw albedo mitigates extreme heat

The Economist (08.03.2014): Global warming: Who pressed the pause button?

SRF2 Wissenschaftsmagazin (01.03.2014): Pause beim Klima (podcast 1.3.2014) [German]

Reuters (26.02.2014): Heat extremes increase despite global warming hiatus

Climate Central (26.02.2014): Climate change is increasing extreme heat globally

ETH (30.01.2014): Vier ETH-Forschende ausgezeichnet; Four ETH researchers win award

RTS Telejournal 19h30 (03.10.2013): Changement climatique en Suisse [French]

RTS Mise au point (22.09.2013): Interview (Fonte des glaciers, GIEC) [French]

The Telegraph (14.11.2012): Droughts steady since 1950s

Nature Geoscience, Research highlights (31.08.2012): Dry heat

NZZ (29.08.2012): Die Crux mit den Extremen

NZZ Online (10.08.2012): Permanente Dürre in den USA?

ETH Life (17.07.2012): Bodenfeuchte und Hitzetage global untersucht; Soil moisture and hot days examined globally

Schweizer Bauer (17.07.2012): Forschung: Längere Trockenheit sagt Hitzewellen voraus

Tages Anzeiger (16.07.2012): ETH-Forscherinnen können Hitzewellen voraussagen

Los Angeles Times (16.07.2012): Dry spells may predict heat waves

ScienceDaily (27.05.2012): More Summer Heatwaves Likely in Europe: Predictability of European Summer Heat from Spring and Winter Rainfall

ETH Klimablog (10.05.2012): IPCC Sonderbericht zu Änderungen in Klimaextremen (IPCC SREX in Kürze)

ETH Life (29.03.2012): IPCC-Sonderbericht zu Klimaextremen; IPCC Special Report on Extreme Events and Disasters

ETH Klimablog (29.03.2012): Rigorose Qualitätskontrollen beim neusten IPCC-Sonderbericht

SciNevNet (28.03.2012): IPCC predicts rise in extreme climate events

Aqua & Gas (03/2012): On ne peut pas définir la sécheresse indépendamment du milieu impacté

Environmental Health Perspectives (01.02.2012): Managing the Risks of Extreme Weather: IPCC Special Report

ETH Globe (12/2011): Ab drei Grad wird's kritisch - Trockenheit und Landwirtschaft

Le Temps (26.11.2011): Vivre au sec, mode d'emploi

ETH Connect (09/2011): Ein Frühwarnsystem für magere Jahre

NFP61 DROUGHT-CH (08.06.2011): Video on DROUGHT-CH project [French; English sub-titles; German sub-titles]

Le Temps (16.05.2011): Mieux prédire les grandes canicules

SF Einstein (05.05.2011): Ein Frühling wie Sommer

SNF Journal Horizonte/Horizons (03/2011): Wenn die Atmosphäre zum Backofen wird ; Mieux prédire les canicules

NZZ (15.12.2010): Dürren bereiten den Boden für Hitzewellen

ETH Life (13.12.2010): Der Boden ist schuld; Soil responsible for heat waves

Nature Geoscience, News and Views (12.12.2010): Extreme heat rooted in dry soils

ETH Globe (11/2010): Vom Klimamodell zum Klimaservice

ETH Life (06.09.2010): Das Wald-Paradoxon bei Hitzewellen; The forest paradox during heatwaves

ETH Life (22.07.2010): Einfluss der Temperatur auf den «CO2-Atem»

Le Temps (22.07.2010): La Suisse doit adopter un système d'alertes sécheresse

3Sat (nano) (15.09.2009): Der Boden schützt uns bald nicht mehr vor Hitze. Die Schweiz durchzieht ihr Land mit Messstationen

ETH Life (22.08.2008): Der Bodenfeuchte auf den Grund gehen

SNF Journal Horizonte/Horizons (12/2008): Ein Klimaschlüssel liegt im Boden; Une clé du climat se cache dans le sol

Soil moisture is a key variable of the climate system, which is not only relevant for agriculture but also for meteorological and seasonal forecasting. In particular, knowledge on soil moisture evolution and its interaction with the atmosphere can help understand processes leading to extreme events such as droughts, heatwaves, and heavy precipitation. This is particularly relevant in the context of climate change, with changes in soil moisture being projected to enhance (and in some case reduce) impacts from enhanced greenhouse gas concentrations. Despite its importance, soil moisture is not routinely measured in most parts of the world, particularly in Europe, where measurement datasets are scarce.

Since June 2008, the joint project SwissSMEX (Swiss Soil Moisture EXperiment) has been initiated by ETH Zurich, Agroscope ART, and MeteoSwiss to address this issue. In 2010 the additional project SwissSMEX-Veg was established, in order to investigate soil moisture evolution at sites with different land cover types (forest vs grassland). Both projects were funded by the Swiss National Foundation. This allowed the establishment of a three-year (2008-2011) soil moisture measurement experiment to provide a comprehensive assessment of soil moisture and its interaction with climate in Switzerland. At present, measurements are still on-going, and the network consists of 19 sites at 17 locations (14 grassland, 1 arable, and 4 forest stations), including the Rietholzbach research catchment site (, several SwissFluxnet sites (, and selected SwissMetNet ( stations.

 Picture: Peter Rüegg/ ETH life
Picture: Peter Rüegg/ ETH life  


ETH Zurich: Prof. Sonia I. Seneviratne (PI), Dr. Heidi Mittelbach

Agroscope ART: Prof. Jürg Fuhrer (co-PI), Dr. Christof Ammann

MeteoSwiss: Dr. Christoph Spirig (co-PI), Dr. Yves-Alain Roulet

WSL: Dr. Elisabeth Graf Pannatier (co-PI), Dr. Norbert Kräuchi (co-PI), Dr. Peter Waldner

PhD Thesis

Mittelbach, H., 2011: Soil Moisture in Switzerland: Analyses from the Swiss Soil Moisture Experiment. PhD Thesis, Diss. ETH No. 20114. Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zürich, Switzerland.


Mittelbach, H., F. Casini, I. Lehner, A.J. Teuling, and S.I. Seneviratne, 2011: Soil moisture monitoring for climate research: Evaluation of a low cost sensor in the framework of the SwissSMEX campaign. J. Geophys. Res., 116, D05111, doi:10.1029/2010JD014907.

Mittelbach, H., I. Lehner, and S.I. Seneviratne, 2012: Soil moisture monitoring for climate research: Comparison of four soil moisture sensor types under field conditions in Switzerland . J. Hydrology, 430, 39-49, doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2012.01.041.

Mittelbach, H., and S.I. Seneviratne, 2012: A new perspective on the spatio-temporal variability of soil moisture: temporal dynamics versus time-invariant contributions. Hydr. Earth Syst. Sci, 16, 2169–2179, doi:10.5194/hess-16-2169-2012.


The aim of this research project is to set up a soil moisture measurement network in Switzerland, and to investigate soil moisture-climate interactions using the collected data. The main objectives include:


Set up of a SwissSMEX site
Site instrumentation
Available data

For any further information please contact Heidi Mittelbach.

webmaster: Brigitte Mueller


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© 2015 ETH Zurich | Imprint | Disclaimer | 4 August 2015