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Global changes in water vapor 1979‐2020

Allan, R. P. ORCID:, Willett, K. M. ORCID:, John, V. O. ORCID: and Trent, T. ORCID: (2022) Global changes in water vapor 1979‐2020. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 127 (12). e2022JD036728. ISSN 2169-8996

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1029/2022JD036728


Global-scale changes in water vapor and responses to surface temperature variability since 1979 are evaluated across a range of satellite and ground-based observations, a reanalysis (ERA5) and coupled and atmosphere-only CMIP6 climate model simulations. Global mean column integrated water vapor increased by 1%/decade during 1988-2014 in observations and atmosphere-only simulations. However, coupled simulations overestimate water vapor trends and this is partly explained by past studies showing that internal climate variability suppressed observed warming in this period. Decreases in low-altitude tropical water vapor in ERA5 and ground-based observations before around 1993 are considered suspect based on inconsistency with simulations and increased column integrated water vapor in microwave satellite data since 1979. AIRS satellite data does not capture the increased tropospheric water vapor since 2002 shown by other satellite, reanalysis and model products. However, global water vapor responses to interannual surface temperature variability is consistent across datasets with increases of ∼4-5% near the surface and 10-15% at 300 hPa for each 1◦C increase in global surface temperature. Global water vapor responses are explained by thermodynamic amplification of upper tropospheric temperature changes and the Clausius Clapeyron temperature dependence of saturation vapor pressure that are dominated by the tropical ocean responses. Upper tropospheric moistening is larger in climate model simulations with greater upper tropospheric warming.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO)
Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:105632
Publisher:American Geophysical Union


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