Surface soil moisture is a key variable used to describe water and energy exchanges at the land surface/atmosphere interface. Passive microwave remotely sensed data have great potential for providing estimates of soil moisture with good temporal repetition on a daily basis and on a regional scale (∼ 10 km). However, the effects of vegetation cover, soil temperature, snow cover, topography, and soil surface roughness also play a significant role in the microwave emission from the surface. Different soil moisture retrieval approaches have been developed to account for the various parameters contributing to the surface microwave emission. Four main types of algorithms can be roughly distinguished depending on the way vegetation and temperature effects are accounted for. These algorithms are based on (i) land cover classification maps, (ii) ancillary remote sensing indexes, and (iii) two-parameter or (iv) three-parameter retrievals (in this case, soil moisture, vegetation optical depth, and effective surface temperature are retrieved simultaneously from the microwave observations). Methods (iii) and (iv) are based on multiconfiguration observations, in terms of frequency, polarization, or view angle. They appear to be very promising as very few ancillary information are required in the retrieval process. This paper reviews these various methods for retrieving surface soil moisture from microwave radiometric systems. The discussion highlights key issues that will have to be addressed in the near future to secure operational use of the proposed retrieval approaches. © 2003 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.