AGW Observer

Observations of anthropogenic global warming

Papers on atmospheric water vapor

Posted by Ari Jokimäki on June 23, 2010

This is a list of papers on atmospheric water vapor with an emphasis on the observations. Note that there is a separate list on water vapor feedback and all the papers there are relevant for this also. Some papers in this list also include some discussion on water vapor feedback. Stratospheric water vapor has its own list. The list is not complete, and will most likely be updated in the future in order to make it more thorough and more representative.

UPDATE (August 3, 2013): Vonder Haar et al. (2012) added.
UPDATE (June 17, 2011): Dai et al. (2011) added.
UPDATE (June 4, 2011): Gaffen et al. (1992), Gaffen & Elliott (1993), Elliott (1995), Ross & Elliott (1996), Soden & Lanzante (1996), Ross & Elliott (2001), Soden et al. (2005), and Trenberth et al. (2005) added.

Weather and climate analyses using improved global water vapor observations – Vonder Haar et al. (2012) “The NASA Water Vapor Project (NVAP) dataset is a global (land and ocean) water vapor dataset created by merging multiple sources of atmospheric water vapor to form a global data base of total and layered precipitable water vapor. Under the NASA Making Earth Science Data Records for Research Environments (MEaSUREs) program, NVAP is being reprocessed and extended, increasing its 14-year coverage to include 22 years of data. The NVAP-MEaSUREs (NVAP-M) dataset is geared towards varied user needs, and biases in the original dataset caused by algorithm and input changes were removed. This is accomplished by relying on peer reviewed algorithms and producing the data in multiple “streams” to create products geared towards studies of both climate and weather. We briefly discuss the need for reprocessing and extension, steps taken to improve the product, and provide some early science results highlighting the improvements and potential scientific uses of NVAP-M.” Thomas H. Vonder Haar, Janice L. Bytheway, John M. Forsythe, Geophysical Research Letters, Volume 39, Issue 15, August 2012, DOI: 10.1029/2012GL052094.

A New Approach to Homogenize Daily Radiosonde Humidity Data – Dai et al. (2011) “Radiosonde humidity records represent the only in situ observations of tropospheric water vapor content with multidecadal length and quasi-global coverage. However, their use has been hampered by ubiquitous and large discontinuities resulting from changes to instrumentation and observing practices. Here a new approach is developed to homogenize historical records of tropospheric (up to 100 hPa) dewpoint depression (DPD), the archived radiosonde humidity parameter. Two statistical tests are used to detect changepoints, which are most apparent in histograms and occurrence frequencies of the daily DPD: a variant of the Kolmogorov–Smirnov (K–S) test for changes in distributions and the penalized maximal F test (PMFred) for mean shifts in the occurrence frequency for different bins of DPD. These tests capture most of the apparent discontinuities in the daily DPD data, with an average of 8.6 changepoints (1 changepoint per 5 yr) in each of the analyzed radiosonde records, which begin as early as the 1950s and ended in March 2009. Before applying breakpoint adjustments, artificial sampling effects are first adjusted by estimating missing DPD reports for cold (T < −30°C) and dry (DPD artificially set to 30°C) conditions using empirical relationships at each station between the anomalies of air temperature and vapor pressure derived from recent observations when DPD reports are available under these conditions. Next, the sampling-adjusted DPD is detrended separately for each of the 4–10 quantile categories and then adjusted using a quantile-matching algorithm so that the earlier segments have histograms comparable to that of the latest segment. Neither the changepoint detection nor the adjustment uses a reference series given the stability of the DPD series. Using this new approach, a homogenized global, twice-daily DPD dataset (available online at is created for climate and other applications based on the Integrated Global Radiosonde Archive (IGRA) and two other data sources. The adjusted-daily DPD has much smaller and spatially more coherent trends during 1973–2008 than the raw data. It implies only small changes in relative humidity in the lower and middle troposphere. When combined with homogenized radiosonde temperature, other atmospheric humidity variables can be calculated, and these exhibit spatially more coherent trends than without the DPD homogenization. The DPD adjustment yields a different pattern of change in humidity parameters compared to the apparent trends from the raw data. The adjusted estimates show an increase in tropospheric water vapor globally." Dai, Aiguo, Junhong Wang, Peter W. Thorne, David E. Parker, Leopold Haimberger, Xiaolan L. Wang, 2011, J. Climate, 24, 965–991, doi: 10.1175/2010JCLI3816.1

An analysis of the dependence of clear-sky top-of-atmosphere outgoing longwave radiation on atmospheric temperature and water vapor – Dessler et al. (2008) “We have analyzed observations of clear-sky top-of-atmosphere outgoing longwave radiation (OLR) measured by the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES). … First, we compare the OLR measurements to OLR calculated from two radiative transfer models. The models use as input simultaneous and collocated measurements of atmospheric temperature and atmospheric water vapor made by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS). We find excellent agreement between the models’ predictions of OLR and observations, well within the uncertainty of the measurements.” [Full text]

Measurement of the water vapour vertical profile and of the Earth’s outgoing far infrared flux – Palchetti et al. (2008) “An assessment is shown of the atmospheric outgoing flux obtained from a balloon-borne platform with wideband spectrally-resolved nadir measurements at the top of the atmosphere over the full spectral range, from 100 to 1400 cm-1, made by a Fourier transform spectrometer with uncooled detectors. From these measurements, we retrieved 15 pieces of information regarding water vapour and temperature profiles and surface temperature, with a major improvement in our knowledge of water vapour in the upper troposphere.” [Full text]

REFIR/BB initial observations in the water vapour rotational band: Results from a field campaign – Esposito et al. (2007) “The spectral and radiometric performance of the instrument and initial observations are shown in this paper. Comparisons to both (1) BOMEM MR100 Fourier Transform spectrometer observations and (2) line-by-line radiative transfer calculations for selected clear sky are presented and discussed. These comparisons (1) show a very nice agreement between radiance measured by REFIR/BB and by BOMEM MR100 and (2) demonstrate that REFIR/BB accurately observes the very fine spectral structure in the water vapour rotational band.” [Full text]

Trends and variability in column-integrated atmospheric water vapor – Trenberth et al. (2005) “An analysis and evaluation has been performed of global datasets on column-integrated water vapor (precipitable water). For years before 1996, the Ross and Elliott radiosonde dataset is used for validation of European Centre for Medium-range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) reanalyses ERA-40. Only the special sensor microwave imager (SSM/I) dataset from remote sensing systems (RSS) has credible means, variability and trends for the oceans, but it is available only for the post-1988 period. Major problems are found in the means, variability and trends from 1988 to 2001 for both reanalyses from National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) and the ERA-40 reanalysis over the oceans, and for the NASA water vapor project (NVAP) dataset more generally. NCEP and ERA-40 values are reasonable over land where constrained by radiosondes. Accordingly, users of these data should take great care in accepting results as real. The problems highlight the need for reprocessing of data, as has been done by RSS, and reanalyses that adequately take account of the changing observing system. Precipitable water variability for 1988–2001 is dominated by the evolution of ENSO and especially the structures that occurred during and following the 1997–98 El Niño event. The evidence from SSM/I for the global ocean suggests that recent trends in precipitable water are generally positive and, for 1988 through 2003, average 0.40±0.09 mm per decade or 1.3±0.3% per decade for the ocean as a whole, where the error bars are 95% confidence intervals. Over the oceans, the precipitable water variability relates very strongly to changes in SSTs, both in terms of spatial structure of trends and temporal variability (with a regression coefficient for 30°N–30°S of 7.8% K−1) and is consistent with the assumption of fairly constant relative humidity. In the tropics, the trends are also influenced by changes in rainfall which, in turn, are closely associated with the mean flow and convergence of moisture by the trade winds. The main region where positive trends are not very evident is over Europe, in spite of large and positive trends over the North Atlantic since 1988. A much longer time series is probably required to obtain stable patterns of trends over the oceans, although the main variability could probably be deduced from past SST and associated precipitation variations.” Kevin E. Trenberth, John Fasullo and Lesley Smith, Climate Dynamics, Volume 24, Numbers 7-8, 741-758, DOI: 10.1007/s00382-005-0017-4. [Full text]

An analysis of satellite, radiosonde, and lidar observations of upper tropospheric water vapor from the Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Program – Soden et al. (2005) “To improve our understanding of the distribution and radiative effects of water vapor, the U.S. Department of Energy Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Program has conducted a series of coordinated water vapor Intensive Observation Periods (IOPs). This study uses observations collected from four ARM IOPs to accomplish two goals: First we compare radiosonde and Raman lidar observations of upper tropospheric water vapor with colocated geostationary satellite radiances at 6.7 μm. During all four IOPs we find excellent agreement between the satellite and Raman lidar observations of upper tropospheric humidity with systematic differences of ∼10%. In contrast, radiosondes equipped with Vaisala sensors are shown to be systematically drier in the upper troposphere by ∼40% relative to both the lidar and satellite measurements. Second, we assess the performance of various “correction” strategies designed to rectify known deficiencies in the radiosonde measurements. It is shown that existing methods for correcting the radiosonde dry bias, while effective in the lower troposphere, offer little improvement in the upper troposphere. An alternative method based on variational assimilation of satellite radiances is presented and, when applied to the radiosonde measurements, is shown to significantly improve their agreement with coincident Raman lidar observations. It is suggested that a similar strategy could be used to improve the quality of the global historical record of radiosonde water vapor observations during the satellite era.” Soden, B. J., D. D. Turner, B. M. Lesht, and L. M. Miloshevich (2004), J. Geophys. Res., 109, D04105, doi:10.1029/2003JD003828. [Full text]

Observed Interannual Variability of Tropical Troposphere Relative Humidity – McCarthy & Toumi (2003) “Relative humidity fields from the High-Resolution Infrared Radiation Sounder (HIRS) flown on NOAA series satellites since 1979 have been used to study the seasonal aspects of the interannual variability of relative humidity in the tropical troposphere. The El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is the only statistically identifiable physical mechanism of such variability. … The authors argue that observed linear trends in regional and tropical mean relative humidity are unlikely to be due solely to ENSO or a simple intensification of the hydrological cycle.” [Full text]

A new METEOSAT “water vapor” archive for climate studies – Picon et al. (2003) “Since 1977, the METEOSAT satellites are equipped with a radiometer dedicated to the measurements of upper tropospheric humidity (UTH) which covers a relevant range of scales for a better understanding of the water vapor role in the climate. Due to the changes of the satellites and the calibration techniques over the last 20 years, this water vapor METEOSAT archive is not homogeneous and cannot be directly used for climatic studies. Hence the authors present in this paper a newly homogenized METEOSAT water vapor channel archive.” [Full text]

Recent climate changes in precipitable water in the global tropics as revealed in National Centers for Environmental Prediction/National Center for Atmospheric Research reanalysis – Zveryaev & Chu (2003) “For the first time, long-term climate changes in the atmospheric moisture over the global tropics are investigated using precipitable water (PW) from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction/National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCEP/NCAR) reanalysis data sets for two different periods: 1979–1998 and 1948–1998. … The second EOF has a spatial pattern, which is characterized by the zonal dipole structure. This mode is associated with the major climatic signal in the region, El Niño-Southern Oscillation.” [Full text]

Analysis of moisture variability in the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts 15-year reanalysis over the tropical oceans – Allan et al. (2002) “We compare European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts 15-year reanalysis (ERA-15) moisture over the tropical oceans with satellite observations and the U.S. National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) National Center for Atmospheric Research 40-year reanalysis. … The moisture variability provided by ERA-15 is not deemed of sufficient quality for use in the validation of climate models.” [Full text]

Water Vapor Variability in the Tropical Western Pacific from 20-year Radiosonde Data – Wang et al. (2001) “The 20-year (1976-1995) daily radiosonde data at 17 stations in the tropical western Pacific was ana lyzed. The analysis shows that the atmosphere is more humid in a warmer climate on seasonal, inter-annual and long-term (20-year) time scales, implying a positive water vapor feedback. The vertical structure of the long-term trends in relative humidity (RH) is distinct from that on short-term (seasonal and inter-annual) time scales, suggesting that observed water vapor changes on short time scales could not be considered as a surrogate of long-term climate change. The increasing trend of RH (3%-5%/decade) in the upper troposphere is stronger than that in the lower troposphere (1%-2% / decade). Such vertical structure would amplify positive water vapor feedback in comparison to the common assumption of constant RH changes vertically.” [Full text]

Trends in upper‐tropospheric humidity – Bates & Jackson (2001) “Satellite radiance observations from the past 20 years, which are sensitive to the water vapor and temperature of the upper troposphere, provide the first global observations of trends in upper‐tropospheric humidity. These decadal trends are strongly positive in the deep tropics, negative in the Southern Hemisphere subtropics and midlatitudes, and of mixed sign in the Northern Hemisphere subtropics and midlatitudes. The trends are shown to be consistent with atmospheric circulation changes observed in the past 20 years, including a tendency toward more El Niño‐Southern Oscillation warm events and changes in transient eddy activity in the subtropics.”

Radiosonde-Based Northern Hemisphere Tropospheric Water Vapor Trends – Ross & Elliott (2001) “Trends in tropospheric water vapor at Northern Hemisphere radiosonde stations are presented for two periods;1973–95 and 1958–95. Stations with incomplete or inhomogeneous temporal records were identified and excluded from the analysis. For the 1973–95 period, trends in surface–500-mb precipitable water and in specific humidity, dewpoint, and temperature at the 850-mb level are shown. At most stations in this analysis, precipitable water, specific humidity, and dewpoint temperature have increased along with temperature over the period. An exception is Europe, over which temperature increased but humidity slightly decreased. Water vapor increases are larger, more uniform, and more significant over North America than over Eurasia, and the differences in trend magnitude and sign between the two regions may be attributable to changes in the late 1970s that affected North America more than Eurasia. Seasonal and annual correlations of surface–500-mb precipitable water with temperature, dewpoint temperature, and specific and relative humidity at the surface, 850, and 700 mb indicate a strong and relatively geographically invariant relationship between 850-mb specific humidity and surface–500-mb precipitable water. Specific humidity at 850 mb is then used as a surrogate for the surface–500-mb precipitable water over the 1958–95 period to avoid data quality problems in the pre-1973 precipitable water time series. Generally, 850-mb specific humidity trends at a small set of stations for 1958–95 show that only small increases occurred and that most of the overall increase probably occurred since 1973.” Ross, Rebecca J., William P. Elliott, 2001, J. Climate, 14, 1602–1612, doi: 10.1175/1520-0442(2001)0142.0.CO;2. [Full text]

Decadal Variations in Tropical Water Vapor: A Comparison of Observations and a Model Simulation – Soden & Schroeder et al. (2000) “Multiple satellite records of tropical-mean water vapor are compared with a general circulation model (GCM) simulation to assess the ability to monitor and to predict low-frequency changes in total precipitable water. Particular attention is focused on the drying between 1979 and 1995 recorded by a TOVS statistical retrieval that is calibrated to radiosondes. Both a GCM integrated with observed SSTs and microwave and TOVS physical retrievals that overlap the drying period show no sustained drying. This discrepancy is consistent with the suggestion by Ross and Gaffen that the TOVS statistical algorithm is vulnerable to radiosonde instrumentation changes over this period that introduce an artificial drying trend into the retrieval.” [Full text]

Water vapor measurements by lidar: Raman and DIAL campaigns – Di Girolamo (2000) “Ground-based water vapor measurements by lidar have been performed in Potenza, Southern Italy, by the application of the Raman and the DIAL techniques. Raman measurements have been accomplished through the simultaneous detection of the backscattered radiation in the vibrational Raman bands of water vapor and molecular nitrogen as stimulated by a 355 nm beam, while DIAL measurements at 720 nm have been accomplished by means of a dye laser transmitter. Water vapor measurements in the troposphere up to approximately 10 km above station level have been obtained through the simultaneous application of the Raman and DIAL techniques.”

In Situ Measurements of H2O From a Stratospheric Balloon by Diode Laser Direct-Differential Absorption Spectroscopy at 1.39 um – Durry & Megie (2000) “A distributed-feedback InGaAs laser diode emitting near 1.393 um is used in conjunction with an optical multipass cell that is open to the atmosphere to yield ambient water-vapor measurements by infrared absorption spectroscopy.”

Temporal trends in United States dew point temperatures – Robinson (2000) “In this study, hourly data for the 1951-1990 period for 178 stations in the coterminous United States were used to establish temporal trends in dew point temperature. … Nevertheless, seasonally averaged results indicated an increase over much of the area, of slightly over 1°C/100 years in spring and autumn, slightly less than this in summer. Winter displayed a drying of over 1°C/100 years. When only the 1961-1990 period was considered, the patterns were similar and trends increased by approximately 1-2°C/100 years, except in autumn, which displayed a slight drying.”

Spatial Patterns of Climate Variability in Upper-Tropospheric Water Vapor Radiances from Satellite Data and Climate Model Simulations – Geer et al. (1999) “However, the large body of radiance data from satellite-borne instruments includes contiguous datasets of up to 17 yr in length and in future years will present the most well-calibrated and large-scale data archive available for climate change studies. Here the authors give an example of the spatial correlation technique used to analyze satellite radiance data. They examine yearly mean brightness temperatures from High Resolution Infrared Spectrometer (HIRS) channel 12, sensitive to upper-tropospheric water vapor and temperature.”

Validation of a new prototype water vapor retrieval for the UARS Microwave Limb Sounder – Pumphrey (1999) “The UARS Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) measured water vapor in the middle atmosphere between September 1991 and April 1993. … As part of the process of developing the next version of UARS MLS data, a new prototype retrieval for the stratosphere/mesosphere water vapor product was developed at the University of Edinburgh. The main improvements made were (1) corrections for systematic errors and (2) doubling of the vertical resolution of the retrieval grid.” [Full text]

Water vapor of the polar middle atmosphere: Annual variation and summer mesosphere Conditions as observed by ground‐based microwave spectroscopy – Seele & Hartogh (1999) “We have been operating a ground‐based microwave radiometer for the 22.235GHz water vapor line at the ALOMAR observatory, Norway, in 1995/96 and continuously since July 1997. Its high latitude location (69°N, 16°E) provides a new and unique dataset of stratospheric and mesospheric water vapor observations. … The water vapor mixing ratio shows a pronounced annual cycle that is stronger than what has been reported for mid‐latitudes. … This investigation indicates that water vapor is already present near mesopause heights when the PMSE/NLC season starts and is still present long after it has declined.”

Atmospheric radiation and atmospheric humidity – Harries (1997) Shows how scientists are well aware of the importance of water vapor. “Results from two satellite experiments which provide data on the concentration of water vapour in the upper and middle troposphere are presented. … Sensitivity studies are presented of the effect on the outgoing-radiation spectrum of varying the amount of water vapour throughout the troposphere. It is shown that uncertainties of only a few percent in knowledge of the humidity distribution in the atmosphere could produce changes to the outgoing spectrum of similar magnitude to that caused by doubling carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Errors in the water vapour amounts generated in model simulations of the climate could, therefore, be significant in climate change calculations.”

A New Global Water Vapor Dataset – Randel et al. (1996) “A comprehensive and accurate global water vapor dataset is critical to the adequate understanding of water vapor’s role in the earth’s climate system. To begin to satisfy this need, the authors have produced a blended dataset made up of global, 5-yr (1988–92), 1° × 1° spatial resolution, atmospheric water vapor (WV) and liquid water path products. These new products consist of both the daily total column-integrated composites and a multilayered WV product at three layers (1000–700, 700–500, 500–300 mb). The analyses combine WV retrievals from the Television and Infrared Operational Satellite (TIROS) Operational Vertical Sounder (TOVS), the Special Sensor Microwave/Imager, and radiosonde observations. … A distinct global annual cycle is shown to be dominated by the Northern Hemisphere observations. Planetary-scale variations are found to relate well to recent independent estimates of tropospheric temperature variations. Maps of regional interannual variability in the 5-yr period show the effect of the 1992 ENSO and other features.” [Full text]

An Assessment of Satellite and Radiosonde Climatologies of Upper-Tropospheric Water Vapor – Soden & Lanzante (1996) “This study compares radiosonde and satellite climatologies of upper-tropospheric water vapor for the period 1979–1991. Comparison of the two climatologies reveals significant differences in the regional distribution of upper-tropospheric relative humidity. These discrepancies exhibit a distinct geopolitical dependence that is demonstrated to result from international differences in radiosonde instrumentation. Specifically, radiosondes equipped with goldbeater’s skin humidity sensors (found primarily in the former Soviet Union, China, and eastern Europe) report a systematically moister upper troposphere relative to the satellite observations, whereas radiosondes equipped with capacitive or carbon hygristor sensors (found at most other locations) report a systematically drier upper troposphere. The bias between humidity sensors is roughly 15%–20% in terms of the relative humidity, being slightly greater during summer than during winter and greater in the upper troposphere than in the midtroposphere. However, once the instrumentation bias is accounted for, regional variations of satellite and radiosonde upper-tropospheric relative humidity are shown to be in good agreement. Additionally, temporal variations in radiosonde upper-tropospheric humidity agree reasonably well with the satellite observations and exhibit much less dependence upon instrumentation. The impact that the limited spatial coverage of the radiosonde network has upon the moisture climatology is also examined and found to introduce systematic errors of 10%–20% relative humidity over data-sparse regions of the Tropics. It is further suggested that the present radiosonde network lacks sufficient coverage in the eastern tropical Pacific to adequately capture ENSO-related variations in upper-tropospheric moisture. Finally, we investigate the impact of the clear-sky sampling restriction upon the satellite moisture climatology. Comparison of clear-sky and total-sky radiosonde observations suggests the clear-sky sampling limitation introduces a modest dry bias (<10% relative humidity) in the satellite climatology." Soden, Brian J., John R. Lanzante, 1996, J. Climate, 9, 1235–1250, doi: 10.1175/1520-0442(1996)0092.0.CO;2. [Full text]

Tropospheric Water Vapor Climatology and Trends over North America: 1973–93 – Ross & Elliott (1996) “Here 21 years of radiosonde observations from stations in the Western Hemisphere north of the equator were analyzed for trends in tropospheric water vapor. Mean fields of precipitable water and relative humidity at several levels we shown. Annual trends of surface-500 mb precipitable water were generally increasing over this region except over northeastern Canada. When trends were expressed as a percentage of the climatological mean at each station, the trends south of 45°N represent a linear rate of increase of 3%–7% decade−1. Trends in the upper portion of this layer, 700–500 mb, were as large or larger than those of the middle (850–700 mb) or lower layer and were consistent in sign. Annual trends in dewpoint generally agree in sign with trends in temperature. However, the dewpoint trends tended to be larger than those of temperature. This was consistent with the annual increases found in relative humidity over this period. Relative humidity increased except in Canada, Alaska, and a few stations in western mountainous areas. Largest percentage increases of relative humidity were in the Tropics. Seasonal trends of precipitable water varied spatially more than the annual trends and fewer were statistically significant. More stations had significant trends in summer than in other seasons and these were located over the central and eastern United States and the Tropics. Spring trends were largest over the western United States, while the largest winter trends were along the Gulf Coast. The one area where significant water vapor increases were found in all four seasons was the Caribbean.” Ross, Rebecca J., William P. Elliott, 1996, J. Climate, 9, 3561–3574, doi: 10.1175/1520-0442(1996)0092.0.CO;2. [Full text]

Ground-based measurements of water vapor in the middle atmosphere – Nedoluha et al. (1995) “We present measurements of the middle atmospheric water vapor mixing ratio profile obtained using the ground-based Naval Research Laboratory water vapor millimeter-wave spectrometer (WVMS) instrument at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Table Mountain Observatory. The measurements cover a period of 262 days from January 23, 1992, to October 13, 1992. During this campaign it was possible to retrieve useful daily mixing ratio profiles for 186 days. We thus have a nearly continuous record of water vapor mixing ratios for altitudes from ≈35 to 75 km. … The high-altitude (≳65 km) data show a sharp rise prior to the expected maximum near the summer solstice and a gradual decline in the following months. The mixing ratios generally peak between 55 and 65 km, at which point the mixing ratios are 6–7 parts per million by volume. The highest peaks occur in January, May, and October.”

On detecting long-term changes in atmospheric moisture – Elliott (1995) “Long-term temperature changes are expected to give rise to changes in the water vapor content of the atmosphere, which in turn would accentuate the temperature change. It is thus important to monitor water vapor in the troposphere and lower stratosphere. This paper reviews existing data for such an endeavor and the prospects for improvement in monitoring. In general, radiosondes provide the longest record but the data are fraught with problems, some arising from the distribution of stations and some from data continuity questions arising from the use of different measuring devices over both time at one place and over space at any one time. Satellite records are now of limited duration but they will soon be useful in detecting changes. Satellite water vapor observations have their own limitations; there is no one system capable of measuring water vapor over all surfaces in all varieties of weather. Among the needs are careful analysis of existing records, the collection of metadata about the measuring systems, the development of a transfer standard radiosonde system, and the commitment to maintaining an observing system dedicated to describing any climate changes worldwide.” William P. Elliott, Climatic Change, Volume 31, Numbers 2-4, 349-367, DOI: 10.1007/BF01095152. [Full text]

Column Water Vapor Content in Clear and Cloudy Skies – Gaffen & Elliott (1993) “With radiosonde data from 15 Northern Hemisphere stations, surface-to-400-mb column water vapor is computed from daytime soundings for 1988–1990. On the basis of simultaneous surface visual cloud observations, the data are categorized according to sky-cover amount. Climatological column water vapor content in clear skies is shown to be significantly lower than in cloudy skies. Column water vapor content in tropical regions varies only slightly with cloud cover, but at midlatitude stations, particularly in winter, clear-sky values are much lower. The variation in column water content with cloud cover is not simply due to variations in atmospheric temperature, since the increase in water vapor with cloud cover is generally associated with a decrease in daytime temperature. Biases in radiosonde instruments associated with cloudiness do not explain the station-to-station variations in the magnitude of the increase of column water vapor with cloud cover. Statistics are presented that can be used as guidance in estimating the bias in water vapor climatologies based on clear-sky or partly cloudy-sky measurements. These may be helpful in distinguishing the clear- and cloudy-sky greenhouse effects of water vapor.” Gaffen, Dian J., William P. Elliott, 1993, J. Climate, 6, 2278–2287, doi: 10.1175/1520-0442(1993)0062.0.CO;2. [Full text]

Relationships between tropospheric water vapor and surface temperature as observed by radiosondes – Gaffen et al. (1992) “Using radiosonde data from 50 stations for 1973–1990, we quantify relationships between surface air temperature (Ts) and precipitable water vapor (W) for different time scales. Monthly mean observations are fairly well described by an equation of the form ln W = A + B Ts, but the coefficients A and B depend on the Ts range considered. At high Ts, the relationship is poor. This relationship and relationships between sea surface temperature (SST) and W based on satellite microwave observations over oceans are in remarkably good agreement over restricted SST ranges. Monthly and annual anomalies of W and Ts are well correlated only outside the tropics, but on longer time scales, there is some evidence of positive trends in both W and Ts at most of the stations studied. Thus the relationship between W and Ts depends on the time scales and geographic region considered.” Gaffen, D. J., W. P. Elliott, and A. Robock (1992), Geophys. Res. Lett., 19(18), 1839–1842, doi:10.1029/92GL02001. [Full text]

Infrared Continuum Absorption by Atmospheric Water Vapor in the 8-12- Micrometer Window – Roberts et al. (1976) “We have carried out a detailed analysis of several long-path-length transmission measurements in the 8 to 12 micrometer atmospheric window in order to determine the extinction coefficient due to the water vapor continuum. Our results indicate that three modifications to the current LOWTRAN atmospheric transmission model are required. The first two corrections are an improved fit to the pure water vapor continuum absorption coefficient and the elimination of the atmospheric broadened continuum term. Finally, and most critically, a strong measured temperature dependence must be included in the water vapor continuum absorption coefficient. For path lengths ranging from 10 to 50 km, failure to incorporate these corrections can lead to errors in the computed transmission ranging from factors of 2 to more than 10,000.” [Full text]

Atmospheric Absorption of Infrared Solar Radiation at the Lowell Observatory. II. The Spectral Interval: 5.5-8μ – Adel & Lampland (1940) “The intensity variations in the telluric spectrum between the limits 5.5 and 8 μ are great. They are here empirically specified as functions of the atmospheric water vapor content.” [Full text is available in the abstract page]

Atmospheric Absorption of Infrared Solar Radiation at the Lowell Observatory. I. – Adel (1940) “In the present paper it is experimentally demonstrated that the influence of the rotation spectrum of water vapor extends down to [lambda] < 8 μ." [Full text is available in the abstract page]

The Importance of Water Vapour in the Atmosphere – Patterson (1926) Discusses some of the basics of the issue. [Full text available in the abstract page]

Spectra of Water-Vapor in the Earth’s Atmosphere – Gilchrist (1909) Presents water vapor measurements. [Full text available in the abstract page]

Dr. Arendt’s Spectroscopic Investigation of the Variation of Aqueous Vapor in the Atmosphere – Jewell (1897) Jewell discusses his observations further. [Full text available in the abstract page]

Die Schwankungen im Wasserdampfgehalte Der Atmosphare auf Grund Spectroskopischer Untersuchungen; Th. Arendt – Frost (1897) Despite the title, the paper is in English. “In this paper the author, a member of the staff of the Prussian Meteorological Observatory at Potsdam, gives an account of his spectroscopic investigation of the variations in the amount of aqueous vapor in the atmosphere during the latter part of the summer of 1895.” [Full text available in the abstract page]

The Determination of the Relative Quantities of Aqueous Vapor in the Atmosphere BV Means of the Absorption Lines of the Spectrum – Jewell (1896) . [Full text available in the abstract page]

A Review of the Spectroscopic Observations of Mars – Campbell (1895) Water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere is involved in the discussion. [Full text available in the abstract page]

The Spectrum of Mars – Jewell (1895) Presents measurements of water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere in different seasons. [Full text available in the abstract page]


4 Responses to “Papers on atmospheric water vapor”

  1. Ari Jokimäki said

    I removed the stratospheric water vapor section from here and included few papers to the separate stratospheric water vapor list.

  2. Ari Jokimäki said

    I added Gaffen et al. (1992), Gaffen & Elliott (1993), Elliott (1995), Ross & Elliott (1996), Soden & Lanzante (1996), Ross & Elliott (2001), Soden et al. (2005), and Trenberth et al. (2005).

  3. Ari Jokimäki said

    I added Dai et al. (2011).

  4. Ari Jokimäki said

    I added Vonder Haar et al. (2012).

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