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We analyzed the effect of shallow thin layers on the estimation of soil surface water content using full-waveform inversion of off-ground ground penetrating radar (GPR) data. Strong dielectric contrasts are expected to occur under fast wetting or drying weather conditions, thereby leading to constructive and destructive interferences with respect to surface reflection. First, synthetic GPR data were generated and subsequently inverted considering different thin-layer model configurations. The resulting inversion errors when neglecting the thin layer were quantified, and then, the possibility to reconstruct these layers was investigated. Second, laboratory experiments reproducing some of the numerical experiment configurations were conducted to assess the stability of the inverse solution with respect to actual measurement and modeling errors. Results showed that neglecting shallow thin layers may lead to significant errors on the estimation of soil surface water content(¿¿¿¿>0.03 m3/m3), depending on the contrast. Accounting for these layers in the inversion process strongly improved the results, although some optimization issues were encountered. In the laboratory, the proposed full-waveform method permitted to reconstruct thin layers with a high resolution up to 2 cm and to retrieve the soil surface water content with an rmse less than 0.02 m3/m3, owing to the full-waveform inverse modeling. These results suggest that the proposed GPR approach is promising for field-scale mapping of soil surface water content of nondispersive soils with low electrical conductivity and for instances when soil layering is encountered.