We have analyzed global trends of total column precipitable water from measurements of the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment (GOME) on the European Research Satellite (ERS-2) for the period January 1996 to June 2003. In contrast to other satellite retrieval methods of total column precipitable water, our analysis does not rely on a priori assumptions or additional information; thus it is particularly well suited to trend studies. The chosen wavelength range in the red spectral region ensures similar sensitivity for observations over land and ocean and thus a consistent global picture. To minimize the influence of clouds on the water vapor trends, we selected observations under mainly clear-sky conditions. The temporal evolution of the monthly or yearly averaged total column precipitable water, especially in the tropics, is highly correlated to that of the near-surface temperature, indicating that the global atmospheric humidity is mainly driven by Clausius-Clapeyron's principle. The magnitude of the dependence on near-surface temperature indicates a strong water vapor feedback. The spatial patterns of the water vapor trends show both positive and negative signs. Especially over the oceans, trend patterns very similar to those of near-surface temperature are found. In contrast, over Northern Hemispheric continents the trend patterns are much less correlated, and even opposite trends for water vapor and the near-surface temperatures are found. During the period 1996–2002 the globally and yearly averaged total column precipitable water increased by 2.8 ± 0.8% (excluding the ENSO period).