The scientific and human dimensions of global change have many overlapping themes which offer a focus on processes occurring at the continental surface. Soil moisture is of critical importance to the physical processes governing energy and water exchanges at the land/air boundary. Soil moisture controls the extent to which plants can exploit sunlight in photosynthesis and the effectiveness with which agriculture, forestry and freshwater resources can be developed. The importance of the soil moisture to many, diverse communities has resulted in a very large collection of numerical models all of which simulate soil moisture. This paper outlines why and how a series of soil moisture simulation intercomparisons were conducted in a one-year exercise jointly sponsored by the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme and the World Climate Research Programme.