Water vapor in Earth's atmosphere

Gaseous water represents a small but environmentally significant constituent of the atmosphere. The percentage water vapor in surface air varies from a trace in desert regions to about 4% over oceans.[13] Approximately 99.13% of it is contained in the troposphere. The condensation of water vapor to the liquid or ice phase is responsible for clouds, rain, snow, and other precipitation, all of which count among the most significant elements of what we experience as weather. Less obviously, the latent heat of vaporization, which is released to the atmosphere whenever condensation occurs, is one of the most important terms in the atmospheric energy budget on both local and global scales. For example, latent heat release in atmospheric convection is directly responsible for powering destructive storms such as tropical cyclones and severe thunderstorms. Water vapor is also the most potent greenhouse gas owing to the presence of the hydroxyl bond which strongly absorbs in the infra-red region of the light spectrum. Because the water vapor content of the atmosphere will increase in response to warmer temperatures, there is a water vapor feedback which is expected to amplify the climate warming effect due to increased carbon dioxide alone. It is less clear how cloudiness would respond to a warming climate; depending on the nature of the response, clouds could either further amplify or partly mitigate warming from long-lived greenhouse gases. Fog and clouds form through condensation around cloud condensation nuclei. In the absence of nuclei, condensation will only occur at much lower temperatures. Under persistent condensation or deposition, cloud droplets or snowflakes form, which precipitate when they re ch a critical mass. Increasing stratospheric water vapor at Boulder, Colorado. The water content of the atmosphere as a whole is constantly depleted by precipitation. At the same time it is constantly replenished by evaporation, most prominently from seas, lakes, rivers, and moist earth. Other sources of atmospheric water include combustion, respiration, volcanic eruptions, the transpiration of plants, and various other biological and geological processes. The mean global content of water vapor in the atmosphere is roughly sufficient to cover the surface of the planet with a layer of liquid water about 25 mm deep. The mean annual precipitation for the planet is about 1 meter, which implies a rapid turnover of water in the air Ц on average, the residence time of a water molecule in the troposphere is about 9 to 10 days. Episodes of surface geothermal activity, such as volcanic eruptions and geysers, release variable amounts of water vapor into the atmosphere. Such eruptions may be large in human terms, and major explosive eruptions may inject exceptionally large masses of water exceptionally high into the atmosphere, but as a percentage of total atmospheric water, the role of such processes is minor. The relative concentrations of the various gases emitted by volcanoes varies considerably according to the site and according to the particular event at any one site. However, water vapor is consistently the commonest volcanic gas; as a rule, it comprises more than 60% of total emissions during a subaerial eruption.[14] Atmospheric water vapor content is expressed using various measures. These include vapor pressure, specific humidity, mixing ratio, dew point temperature, and relative humidity.