Recent changes in surface humidity: Development of the HadCRUH dataset

Katharine M. Willett, Philip D. Jones, Nathan P. Gillett, Peter W. Thorne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

194 Citations (Scopus)


Water vapor constitutes the most significant greenhouse gas, is a key driver of many atmospheric processes, and hence, is fundamental to understanding the climate system. It is a major factor in human "heat stress," whereby increasing humidity reduces the ability to stay cool. Until now no truly global homogenized surface humidity dataset has existed with which to assess recent changes. The Met Office Hadley Centre and Climatic Research Unit Global Surface Humidity dataset (HadCRUH), described herein, provides a homogenized quality controlled near-global 5° by 5° gridded monthly mean anomaly dataset in surface specific and relative humidity from 1973 to 2003. It consists of land and marine data, and is geographically quasicomplete over the region 60°N-40°S. Between 1973 and 2003 surface specific humidity has increased significantly over the globe, tropics, and Northern Hemisphere. Global trends are 0.11 and 0.07 g kg 1(10 yr)-1 for land and marine components, respectively. Trends are consistently larger in the tropics and in the Northern Hemisphere during summer, as expected: warmer regions exhibit larger increases in specific humidity for a given temperature change under conditions of constant relative humidity, based on the Clausius-Clapeyron equation. Relative humidity trends are not significant when averaged over the landmass of the globe, tropics, and Northern Hemisphere, although some seasonal changes are significant. A strong positive bias is apparent in marine humidity data prior to 1982, likely owing to a known change in reporting practice for dewpoint temperature at this time. Consequently, trends in both specific and relative humidity are likely underestimated over the oceans.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5364-5383
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 2008

Cite this