by University of California Davis, May 6, 2020 in WUWT
The lightness of water vapor buffers climate warming in the tropics.
Conventional knowledge has it that warm air rises while cold air sinks. But a study from the University of California, Davis, found that in the tropical atmosphere, cold air rises due to an overlooked effect — the lightness of water vapor. This effect helps to stabilize tropical climates and buffer some of the impacts of a warming climate.
The study, published today (May 6, 2020) in the journal Science Advances, is among the first to show the profound implications water vapor buoyancy has on Earth’s climate and energy balance.
Moist air is lighter than dry air at the same temperature, pressure, and volume because the molecular weight of water is less than that of dry air. We call this the vapor buoyancy effect. Although this effect is well documented, its impact on Earth’s climate has been overlooked. Here, we show that the lightness of water vapor helps to stabilize tropical climate by increasing the outgoing longwave radiation (OLR). In the tropical atmosphere, buoyancy is horizontally uniform. Then, the vapor buoyancy in the moist regions must be balanced by warmer temperatures in the dry regions of the tropical atmosphere. These higher temperatures increase tropical OLR. This radiative effect increases with warming, leading to a negative climate feedback. At a near present-day surface temperature, vapor buoyancy is responsible for a radiative effect of 1 W/m2 and a negative climate feedback of about 0.15 W/m2 per kelvin.