Moisture, Not Just Temperature, a Prevalent Force in Climate Change: Study

Scientists are shedding light on how to measure dangerous climate extremes.

The release of this study comes as many have begun questioning the measures promised by U.S. President Joe Biden to prevent further climate damage.

The new study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that temperature by itself should not be considered the best way to measure the effects of climate change. Rather, air moisture should also be considered to measure climate change. The study claims that an "increase in surface [greenhouse gases] increases evaporation of water vapor from the surface". Another critical finding was that "a warmer atmosphere can hold more water vapor because of the exponential increase of saturation vapor pressure...with temperature."

According to one of the authors of the study, University of California San Diego climate scientist V. "Ram" Ramanathan, the study was conducted after the scientists noted that the amount of energy generated in extreme weather is similar to the amount of water vapor currently in the air.

"There are two drivers of climate change: temperature and humidity," Ramanathan told the Associated Press. "And so far we measured global warming just in terms of temperature."

He further explained that this moisture, if increased, could result in extreme weather events.

"This increase in latent energy is released in the air which leads to weather extremes," Ramanathan continued, "floods, storms, and droughts."

Even scientists who were not a part of the study are agreeing with its finding. University of Miami environmental scientist Katharine Mach told the Associated Press that "humidity is key in shaping the impacts of heat on human health and well-being, at present and into the future."

Netherlands Storm Corrie
Seawater levels are critically high and chunks of dune are taken down by the water as Storm Corrie rages over the country on January 31, 2022, in Wassenaar, The Netherlands. A new study shows that high air moisture can result in extreme weather conditions, such as Storm Corrie. Photo by Michel Porro/Getty Images

With around $555 billion still allocated towards climate action in his Build Back Better bill, The New York Times reports that this action might not be enough if the Democrats are unable to maintain control of Congress after the midterm elections in November.

"If they can't pull this off, then we failed; the country has failed the climate test," Center for American Progress founder John Podesta told The New York Times.

Furthermore, the climate itself might not want to wait for the Build Back Better bill to finally pass through Congress. More extreme weather, such as floods and heatwaves, will become unavoidable if the current temperature rises about 1.5 degrees Celcius. With this in mind, Biden had previously pledged during 2021's COP26 conference that he will ensure that the United States cuts its emissions by at least 50 percent by 2030.

"If you can't meet the goal, you've lost credibility internationally," said Podesta.

As for Ramanathan and the study he co-authored, he hopes that these new findings help change the discussion around climate change.

"The temperature/humidity metric, convincingly shows that the weather extremes we are experiencing [are] based on sound and well understood scientific principles and hopefully reassure the public, including the skeptics, about the science of global warming," Ramanathan told Newsweek in an email. "We are not claiming the criteria used so far, that is temperature change, is not wrong, but [the] addition of humidity, adds significant value to our understanding of how and why the warming is global and why it is leading to such extremes."

Build Back Better Rally
People participate in a progressive rally for the Build Back Better legislation during morning rush hour on January 31, 2022, in Washington, DC. The Build Back Better bill currently has around $555 billion allocated towards climate action. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images