Atmospheric water vapor
Wang, Pao K. Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin.
- Climatological scheme
- Anvil-top plumes
- Links to Primary Literature
- Additional Readings
Of all the variable gases (as opposed to permanent gases such as oxygen and nitrogen) in the atmosphere, water vapor is perhaps the most important. It not only forms clouds and precipitation (the most visible weather) but also contributes to more than 80% of the greenhouse effect that warms the Earth's atmosphere. In fact, the impact of water vapor on the thermal structure of the atmosphere greatly exceeds that of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is suspected to cause global warming mainly because its concentration is known to be increasing, while it is generally assumed that the water vapor concentration in the atmosphere is in a steady state and probably has no net effect on the atmospheric temperature. In reality, the effect of water vapor is not well understood, and current measurements are not conclusive enough to determine whether the steady-state assumption is valid or not. There is at least one observation indicating that midlatitude lower stratospheric water vapor concentration in the Northern Hemisphere has increased about 50% in the last three decades.
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