What Does Moist Enthalpy Tell Us?

“In terms of assessing trends in globally-averaged surface air temperature as a metric to diagnose the radiative equilibrium of the Earth, the neglect of using moist enthalpy, therefore, necessarily produces an inaccurate metric, since the water vapor content of the surface air will generally have different temporal variability and trends than the air temperature.”

Climate Science: Roger Pielke Sr.

In our blog of July 11, we introduced the concept of moist enthalpy (see also Pielke, R.A. Sr., C. Davey, and J. Morgan, 2004: Assessing “global warming” with surface heat content. Eos, 85, No. 21, 210-211. ). This is an important climate change metric, since it illustrates why surface air temperature alone is inadequate to monitor trends of surface heating and cooling. Heat is measured in units of Joules. Degrees Celsius is an incomplete metric of heat.

Surface air moist enthalpy does capture the proper measure of heat. It is defined as CpT + Lq where Cp is the heat capacity of air at constant pressure, T is air temperature, L is the latent heat of phase change of water vapor, and q is the specific humidity of air. T is what we measure with a thermometer, while q is derived by measuring the wet bulb temperature (or, alternatively, dewpoint…

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