Climate and Dynamics
Water vapor variability in the tropics and its links to dynamics and precipitation
Article first published online: 12 NOV 2005
Copyright 2005 by the American Geophysical Union.
Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres (1984–2012)
Volume 110, Issue D21, 16 November 2005
How to Cite
2005), Water vapor variability in the tropics and its links to dynamics and precipitation, J. Geophys. Res., 110, D21112, doi:10.1029/2005JD006033., and (
- Issue published online: 12 NOV 2005
- Article first published online: 12 NOV 2005
- Manuscript Accepted: 18 JUL 2005
- Manuscript Revised: 3 JUN 2005
- Manuscript Received: 31 MAR 2005
- water vapor;
- global tropics
 The distribution and variability of water vapor and its links with radiative cooling and latent heating via precipitation are crucial to understanding feedbacks and processes operating within the climate system. Column-integrated water vapor (CWV) and additional variables from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) 40-year reanalysis (ERA40) are utilized to quantify the spatial and temporal variability in tropical water vapor over the period 1979–2001. The moisture variability is partitioned between dynamical and thermodynamic influences and compared with variations in precipitation provided by the Climate Prediction Center Merged Analysis of Precipitation (CMAP) and the Global Precipitation Climatology Project (GPCP). The spatial distribution of CWV is strongly determined by thermodynamic constraints. Spatial variability in CWV is dominated by changes in the large-scale dynamics, in particular associated with the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Trends in CWV are also dominated by dynamics rather than thermodynamics over the period considered. However, increases in CWV associated with changes in temperature are significant over the equatorial east Pacific when analyzing interannual variability and over the north and northwest Pacific when analyzing trends. Significant positive trends in CWV tend to predominate over the oceans while negative trends in CWV are found over equatorial Africa and Brazil. Links between changes in CWV and vertical motion fields are identified over these regions and also the equatorial Atlantic. However, trends in precipitation are generally incoherent and show little association with the CWV trends. This may in part reflect the inadequacies of the precipitation data sets and reanalysis products when analyzing decadal variability. Though the dynamic component of CWV is a major factor in determining precipitation variability in the tropics, in some regions/seasons the thermodynamic component cancels its effect on precipitation variability.