Journal of Climate, 23, 4556-4570.

Diagnosis of zonal mean relative humidity changes in a warmer climate

Jonathon Wright
Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, Columbia University, New York, NY.

Adam H. Sobel
Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics and Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University, New York, NY.

Joseph Galewsky
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM.


The zonal mean relative humidity response to a doubling of CO2 in a climate model is examined using a global climate model and an offline tracer transport model. Offline tracer transport model simulations are driven by the output from two configurations of the climate model, one with 1979 concentrations of atmospheric greenhouse gases and one with doubled CO2. A set of last saturation tracers is applied within the tracer transport model to diagnose the dynamics responsible for features in the water vapor field. Two different methods are used to differentiate the effects of circulation and transport shifts from spatially inhomogeneous temperature changes. The first of these uses the tracer transport model and is achieved by decoupling the input temperature and circulation fields; the second uses the reconstruction of humidity from the last saturation tracers and is achieved by decoupling the tracer concentrations from their saturation specific humidities. The responses of the tropical and subtropical relative humidities are found to be largely dependent on circulation and transport changes, particularly a poleward expansion of the Hadley cell, a deepening of the height of convective detrainment, a poleward shift of the extratropical jets, and an increase in the height of the tropopause. The last saturation tracers are used to illustrate the influence of changes in transport pathways within the GCM on the zonal mean relative humidity, particularly in the tropical upper troposphere and subtropical dry zones. Relative humidity changes near the extratropical tropopause and in the lower troposphere are largely dependent on changes in the distribution and gradients of temperature. Increases in relative humidity near the extratropical tropopause in both hemispheres are coincident with increases in the occurrence of local saturation and high cloud cover.