Uncovering the role of water vapor in climate change

With global temperatures rising, scientists from around the world are studying both human-caused influences and the Earth's natural fluctuations to explain changes in our climate. Although carbon dioxide gets most of the attention in greenhouse gas discussions, water vapor plays an even bigger role in heating up the Earth's atmosphere. This is because of water's unique molecular structure and potential heat stored within water that has an influence on storm formation and atmospheric circulation. The latest research regarding water vapor's link to global warming and climate change will be presented October 12-15 in Potomac, Md at the American Geophysical Union Chapman Conference on Water in the Climate System.

Georgia Institute of Technology atmospheric scientist Rong Fu will discuss how warmer sea surface temperatures in tropical oceans lead to an increase in atmospheric water vapor. Because sea surface temperatures heat up during an El Niño, it is important to understand how El Niño climate patterns can change the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, says Fu. "Especially because climate models predict that water vapor contributes more to global warming than carbon dioxide."

Colorado State University atmospheric scientist David Randel uses satellite data to understand the Earth's water cycle. Randel will report results from the first study to combine all the components of the hydrological cycle, including water vapor in the atmosphere, cloudiness, rainfall, and evaporation.

Randel said that scientists are concerned with the impact of warmer global temperatures on the water cycle, because warmer temperatures may increase the frequency and magnitude of tropical storms, flooding, and severe weather. Normal changes in the water cycle occur as seasons change over the course of a year, causing increasing temperatures that result in an increase water vapor, clouds, and rainfall, making understanding the

Contact: Donne Florence
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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