Structure and Dynamical Influence of Water Vapor in the Lower Tropical Troposphere

  • Bjorn StevensEmail author
  • Hélène Brogniez
  • Christoph Kiemle
  • Jean-Lionel Lacour
  • Cyril Crevoisier
  • Johannes Kiliani
Part of the Space Sciences Series of ISSI book series (SSSI, volume 65)


In situ, airborne and satellite measurements are used to characterize the structure of water vapor in the lower tropical troposphere—below the height, z*, of the triple-point isotherm, T*. The measurements are evaluated in light of understanding of how lowertropospheric water vapor influences clouds, convection and circulation, through both radiative and thermodynamic effects. Lower-tropospheric water vapor, which concentrates in the first few kilometers above the boundary layer, controls the radiative cooling profile of the boundary layer and lower troposphere. Elevated moist layers originating from a preferred level of convective detrainment induce a profile of radiative cooling that drives circulations which reinforce such features. A theory for this preferred level of cumulus termination is advanced, whereby the difference between T* and the temperature at which primary ice forms gives a ‘first-mover advantage’ to glaciating cumulus convection, thereby concentrating the regions of the deepest convection and leading to more clouds and moisture near the triple point. A preferred level of convective detrainment near T* implies relative humidity reversals below z* which are difficult to identify using retrievals from satellite-borne microwave and infrared sounders. Isotopologues retrievals provide a hint of such features and their ability to constrain the structure of the vertical humidity profile merits further study. Nonetheless, it will likely remain challenging to resolve dynamically important aspects of the vertical structure of water vapor from space using only passive sensors.


Water vapor Convection Atmospheric circulation Ice initiation Remote sensing Atmospheric measurements Clouds 


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Open access funding provided by Max Planck Society. This paper arises from the International Space Science Institute (ISSI) workshop on ‘‘Shallow clouds and water vapor, circulation and climate sensitivity’’. The NARVAL campaign was co-sponsored by the Max Planck Society, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Science Foundation, project HALO-SPP 1294) and the DLR Institute of Atmospheric Physics. Jean-Lionel Lacour is grateful to the CNES for postdoctoral funding. P-E Kirstetter (NOAA NSSL) and C. Dufour (LATMOS) are acknowledged for their help on the SAPHIR data. The CNES and CNRS are gratefully acknowledged for the financial support to the scientific activity of the Megha-Tropiques mission. The ICARE group is also acknowledged for realizing the ground segment of the mission: The data are available at Brian E. Mapes and an anonymous reviewer are thanked for their constructive comments on an earlier version of this paper.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for MeteorologyHamburgGermany
  2. 2.Laboratoire Atmospheres, Milieux, Observations SpatialesGuyancourtFrance
  3. 3.Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und RaumfahrtInstitute of Atmospheric PhysicsOberpfaffenhofenGermany
  4. 4.UPMC University Paris 06ParisFrance
  5. 5.LATMOS-IPSLUniversit Versailles St-QuentinParisFrance
  6. 6.Institute of Earth SciencesUniversity of IcelandReykjavíkIceland
  7. 7.Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique, CNRS, IPSLEcole PolytechniquePalaiseau CedexFrance

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