In the near future, data from two microwave remote sensors at L-band will enable estimation of near-surface soil moisture. The European Space Agency's Soil Moisture and Salinity Mission (SMOS) launched in November 2009, and NASA is developing a new L-band soil moisture mission named Soil Moisture Active/Passive (SMAP). Soil moisture retrieval theory is well-established, but many details of its application, including the effects of spatial scale, are still being studied. To support these two L-band missions, studies are needed to improve our understanding of the various error sources associated with retrieval of soil moisture from satellite sensors. The purpose of this study is to quantify the magnitude of the scaling error created by the existence of sub-footprint scale variability in soil and vegetation properties, which have nonlinear relationships with emitted microwave energy. The scaling error is related to different functional relationships between surface microwave emissivity and soil moisture that exist for different soils and land cover types within a satellite footprint. We address this problem using single-frequency, single-polarization passive L-band microwave simulations for an Upper Midwest agricultural region in the United States. Making several simplifying assumptions, the analysis performed here helps provide guidance and define limits for future mission requirements by indicating hydrological and landscape conditions under which large errors are expected, and other conditions that are more conducive to accurate soil moisture estimates. Errors associated with spatial aggregation of highly variable land surface characteristics within 40 km satellite ?footprints? were found to be larger than the baseline mission requirements of 0.04-0.06 Volumetric Soil Moisture (VSM) over much of the study area. Soil moisture estimation errors were especially large and positive over portions of the domain characterized by mixtures of forests, wetlands, and open wate- r or mixtures of forest and pasture. However, by eliminating from the analysis areas with high vegetation water content or substantial surface water fractions, conditions that have well-documented adverse effects on soil moisture retrieval, we obtained errors that are in line with these mission requirements. We developed a parameterization for effective optical depth (?eff) based on the standard deviation of optical depth (??) within a footprint in order to improve soil moisture retrieval in the presence of highly variable vegetation density. Use of the resulting parameterized optical depth in retrievals eliminated almost all of the soil moisture biases in our simulated setting. Operationally, the empirical relationship between ?eff and ?? would need to be determined a priori based on intensive measurements from ground-based instrumentation networks or via tuning of the algorithm. Due to this issue and other confounding factors, results are not expected to be as good as in the simulated cases presented here. However, the relationship found in this study is likely to be consistent across landscapes, so any correction following this functional form would very likely lead to large improvements over retrievals based simply on weighted mean properties.