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Published January 2010 | Published
Journal Article Open

The Maintenance of the Relative Humidity of the Subtropical Free Troposphere


The relative importance of different processes in the water vapor balance of the troposphere is assessed, using high-resolution hindcast data from the ECMWF Integrated Forecast System (IFS) for December–February 1998/99 interpolated to isentropic coordinates. The focus is on elucidating the processes that maintain the relative humidity of the subtropical free troposphere. The dominant drying process in the subtropical free troposphere is cross-isentropic subsidence driven by radiative cooling. In some subtropical regions [e.g., over continents in the Southern (summer) Hemisphere and over western portions of ocean basins in the Northern (winter) Hemisphere], drying by radiative subsidence is partially offset or overcompensated by moistening by cross-isentropic dynamic transport of water vapor from the surface upward (e.g., in convection). Any resultant net drying or moistening of the subtropical free troposphere by cross-isentropic motions is regionally primarily balanced by isentropic mean and eddy transport of water vapor from moister into drier regions. Isentropic transport redistributes water vapor within the subtropics and moderates relative humidity contrasts; however, it does not consistently lead to a substantial net import or export of water vapor into or out of the subtropics.

Additional Information

© 2010 American Meteorological Society. Manuscript received 1 December 2008, in final form 3 August 2009. A. Couhert and T. Schneider gratefully acknowledge support by the National Science Foundation (Grant ATM-0450059) and a David and Lucile Packard Fellowship. J. Li and D. Waliser were supported by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. We thank Anthony Del Genio and Adam Sobel for helpful comments and discussions.

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