Using relative humidity as a state variable in climate feedback analysis

Isaac M. Held, Karen M. Shell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


An approach to climate change feedback analysis is described in which tropospheric relative humidity replaces specific humidity as the state variable that, along with the temperature structure, surface albedos, and clouds, controls the magnitude of the response of global mean surface temperature to a radiative forcing. Despite being simply a regrouping of terms in the feedback analysis, this alternative perspective has the benefit of removing most of the pervasive cancellation between water and lapse-rate feedbacks seen in models. As a consequence, the individual feedbacks have less scatter than in the traditional formulation. The role of cloud feedbacks in controlling climate sensitivity is also reflected more clearly in the new formulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2578-2582
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Climate change
  • Climate sensitivity
  • Feedback
  • Humidity
  • Water vapor


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