Articles | Volume 22, issue 3
19 Mar 2004
 | 19 Mar 2004

Factors controlling upper tropospheric relative humidity

B. Kärcher and W. Haag

Abstract. Factors controlling the distribution of relative humidity in the absence of clouds are examined, with special emphasis on relative humidity over ice (RHI) under upper tropospheric and lower stratospheric conditions. Variations of temperature are the key determinant for the distribution of RHI, followed by variations of the water vapor mixing ratio. Multiple humidity modes, generated by mixing of different air masses, may contribute to the overall distribution of RHI, in particular below ice saturation. The fraction of air that is supersaturated with respect to ice is mainly determined by the distribution of temperature. The nucleation of ice in cirrus clouds determines the highest relative humdity that can be measured outside of cirrus clouds. While vertical air motion and ice microphysics determine the slope of the distributions of RHI, as shown in a separate study companion (Haag et al., 2003), clouds are not required to explain the main features of the distributions of RHI below the ice nucleation threshold.

Key words. Atmospheric composition and structure (pressure, density and temperature; troposphere – composition and chemistry; general or miscellaneous)