Water Content of the Atmosphere – Humidity

in Physics

Absolute Humidity

Absolute humidity is the actual amount of the water vapor in a mixture of air and water. It is expressed either in grams per cubic meter or pounds per cubic foot. The amount of water vapor that can be present in the air is dependent upon the temperature and pressure. The higher the temperatures, the more water vapor the air is capable of holding, assuming constant pressure. When air has all the water vapor it can hold at the prevailing temperature and pressure, it is said to be saturated.

Relative Humidity

Relative humidity is the ratio of the amount of water vapor actually present in the atmosphere to the amount that would be present if the air were saturated at the prevailing temperature and pressure. This ratio is usually multiplied by 100 and expressed as a percentage. Suppose, for example, that a weather report includes the information that the temperature is 75°F and the relative humidity is 56 percent. This indicates that the air holds 56 percent of the water vapor required to saturate it at 75°F. If the temperature drops and the absolute humidity remains constant, the relative humidity will increase. This is because less water vapor is required to saturate the air at the lower temperature.

Dew Point

The dew point is the temperature to which humid air must be cooled at constant pressure to become saturated. If the temperature drops below the dew point, condensation occurs. People who wear eyeglasses have experience going from cold outside air into a warm room and having moisture collect quickly on their glasses. This happens because the glasses were below the dew point temperature of the air in the room. The air immediately in contact with the glasses was cooled below its dew point temperature, and some of the water vapor was condensed out. This principle is applied in determining the dew point. A vessel is cooled until water vapor begins to condense on its surface. The temperature at which this occurs is the dew point.

Vapor Pressure

Vapor pressure is the portion of atmospheric pressure that is exerted by the moisture in the air (expressed in tenths of an inch of mercury). The dew point for a given condition depends on the amount of water pressure present; thus, a direct relationship exists between the vapor pressure and the dew point.