Earth: Warmer and wetter

Newly analyzed satellite data shows that Earth’s atmosphere has gotten warmer and wetter over the past 11 years, with the amount of water vapor increasing 2 percent.

In a study appearing in the Jan. 27 issue of the journal Nature, researchers compared measurements of sea surface temperature, air temperature and humidity from three satellites.

“The three satellites combined provide some of the strongest evidence so far of a climate trend of increasing air temperature and humidity,” says Frank Wentz, a physicist at Remote Sensing Systems. “Water vapor is really the primary greenhouse gas in the atmosphere and has a greater influence on global warming than carbon dioxide, but we’re not sure whether this increase of water in the atmosphere will lead to an increase in global warming.”

Comparing the three data sets showed an expected outcome, Wentz and his colleagues say: As air temperature increases, the atmosphere is able to hold more water and as the Earth’s global temperature increases, so the amount of water in the atmosphere would be expected to increase.

Wentz cautioned that 11 years is a very short time to observe climate change. The study did not consider any possible human contributions to climate change.

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