Thu, Oct 11, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Global warming affecting humidity, rain patterns


Man-made global warming is driving up humidity levels, with the risk that rainfall patterns will shift or strengthen, tropical storms will intensify and human health will suffer from heat stress, a study released yesterday said.

From 1976 to 2004, when the world's average surface temperature rose 0.49oC, global levels of atmospheric water vapor rose 2.2 percent, British scientists said in a paper published today in the British science journal Nature.

By 2100, humidity levels could increase by another 10 percent, said lead researcher Nathan Gillett of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, eastern England.

Previously, scientists had noted an increase in humidity over the past few decades as higher temperatures sucked more water from the land and ocean surface.

But it was unclear whether these changes were the result of a natural or a human impact on the climate, as the data was regional rather than global and different methods were used to make the calculations.

The new paper is based on a new set of observations of humidity levels.

Gillett said water vapor was a "positive feedback" in the global warming equation.

Steam is a greenhouse gas, meaning that like carbon pollution that results from burning fossil fuels, it traps solar heat in the atmosphere, thus stoking the warming effect and worsening humidity.

The ramifications could be wide-ranging, he said. The distribution and intensity of rainfall could be affected, and tropical cyclones could be beefed up, as humidity is one of the fuels for these storms.

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