Humidity

Humidity

Overview
Humidity is a term for the amount of water vapor
Water vapor
Water vapor or water vapour , also aqueous vapor, is the gas phase of water. It is one state of water within the hydrosphere. Water vapor can be produced from the evaporation or boiling of liquid water or from the sublimation of ice. Under typical atmospheric conditions, water vapor is continuously...

 in the air, and can refer to any one of several measurements of humidity. Formally, humid air is not "moist air" but a mixture of water vapor and other constituents of air, and humidity is defined in terms of the water content of this mixture, called the Absolute humidity. In everyday usage, it commonly refers to relative humidity, expressed as a percent in weather forecasts and on household humidistat
Humidistat
An electronic device analogous to a thermostat but which responds to relative humidity not temperature. Humidistats are utilized in a number of devices including dehumidifiers, humidifiers, and microwave ovens...

s; it is so called because it measures the current absolute humidity relative to the maximum.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Humidity'
Start a new discussion about 'Humidity'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Unanswered Questions
Encyclopedia
Humidity is a term for the amount of water vapor
Water vapor
Water vapor or water vapour , also aqueous vapor, is the gas phase of water. It is one state of water within the hydrosphere. Water vapor can be produced from the evaporation or boiling of liquid water or from the sublimation of ice. Under typical atmospheric conditions, water vapor is continuously...

 in the air, and can refer to any one of several measurements of humidity. Formally, humid air is not "moist air" but a mixture of water vapor and other constituents of air, and humidity is defined in terms of the water content of this mixture, called the Absolute humidity. In everyday usage, it commonly refers to relative humidity, expressed as a percent in weather forecasts and on household humidistat
Humidistat
An electronic device analogous to a thermostat but which responds to relative humidity not temperature. Humidistats are utilized in a number of devices including dehumidifiers, humidifiers, and microwave ovens...

s; it is so called because it measures the current absolute humidity relative to the maximum. Specific humidity is a ratio
Ratio
In mathematics, a ratio is a relationship between two numbers of the same kind , usually expressed as "a to b" or a:b, sometimes expressed arithmetically as a dimensionless quotient of the two which explicitly indicates how many times the first number contains the second In mathematics, a ratio is...

 of the water vapor content of the mixture to the total air content (on a mass basis). The water vapor content of the mixture can be measured either as mass per volume or as a partial pressure, depending on the usage.

In meteorology, humidity indicates the likelihood of precipitation
Precipitation (meteorology)
In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation (also known as one of the classes of hydrometeors, which are atmospheric water phenomena is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapor that falls under gravity. The main forms of precipitation...

, dew
Dew
[Image:Dew on a flower.jpg|right|220px|thumb|Some dew on an iris in Sequoia National Park]]Dew is water in the form of droplets that appears on thin, exposed objects in the morning or evening...

, or fog
Fog
Fog is a collection of water droplets or ice crystals suspended in the air at or near the Earth's surface. While fog is a type of stratus cloud, the term "fog" is typically distinguished from the more generic term "cloud" in that fog is low-lying, and the moisture in the fog is often generated...

. High relative humidity reduces the effectiveness of sweating
Sweating
Perspiration is the production of a fluid consisting primarily of water as well as various dissolved solids , that is excreted by the sweat glands in the skin of mammals...

 in cooling the body by reducing the rate of evaporation
Evaporation
Evaporation is a type of vaporization of a liquid that occurs only on the surface of a liquid. The other type of vaporization is boiling, which, instead, occurs on the entire mass of the liquid....

 of moisture from the skin. This effect is calculated in a heat index
Heat index
The heat index is an index that combines air temperature and relative humidity in an attempt to determine the human-perceived equivalent temperature — how hot it feels, termed the felt air temperature. The human body normally cools itself by perspiration, or sweating, which evaporates and carries...

 table, used during summer weather.

Absolute humidity


If all the water vapor in one cubic meter of air were condensed into a container, the mass of the water in the container could be measured with a scale to determine absolute humidity. The amount of water vapor in that cube of air is the absolute humidity of that cubic meter of air. More technically, absolute humidity on a volume basis is the mass of dissolved water vapor, , per cubic meter of total moist air, :


Absolute humidity ranges from 0 grams per cubic meter in dry air to 30 grams per cubic meter (0.22 ounce per cubic foot) when the vapor is saturated at 30 °C.http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-53259/climate#292984.hook
(See also Absolute Humidity table)

The absolute humidity changes as air pressure
Pressure
Pressure is the force per unit area applied in a direction perpendicular to the surface of an object. Gauge pressure is the pressure relative to the local atmospheric or ambient pressure.- Definition :...

 changes. This is very inconvenient for chemical engineering
Chemical engineering
Chemical engineering is the branch of engineering that deals with physical science , and life sciences with mathematics and economics, to the process of converting raw materials or chemicals into more useful or valuable forms...

 calculations, e.g. for clothes dryer
Clothes dryer
A clothes dryer or tumble dryer is a household appliance that is used to remove moisture from a load of clothing and other textiles, generally shortly after they are cleaned in a washing machine....

s, where temperature
Temperature
Temperature is a physical property of matter that quantitatively expresses the common notions of hot and cold. Objects of low temperature are cold, while various degrees of higher temperatures are referred to as warm or hot...

 can vary considerably. As a result, absolute humidity is generally defined in chemical engineering as mass of water vapor per unit mass of dry air, also known as the mass mixing ratio (see below), which is much more rigorous for heat and mass balance calculations. Mass of water per unit volume as in the equation above would then be defined as volumetric humidity. Because of the potential confusion, British Standard BS 1339 (revised 2002) suggests avoiding the term "absolute humidity". Units should always be carefully checked. Most humidity charts are given in g/kg or kg/kg, but any mass units may be used.

The field concerned with the study of physical and thermodynamic properties of gas-vapor mixtures is named Psychrometrics
Psychrometrics
Psychrometrics or psychrometry or Hygrometry are terms used to describe the field of engineering concerned with the determination of physical and thermodynamic properties of gas-vapor mixtures...

.

Relative humidity


Relative humidity is defined as the ratio of the partial pressure
Partial pressure
In a mixture of ideal gases, each gas has a partial pressure which is the pressure which the gas would have if it alone occupied the volume. The total pressure of a gas mixture is the sum of the partial pressures of each individual gas in the mixture....

 of water vapor (in a gas
Gas
Gas is one of the three classical states of matter . Near absolute zero, a substance exists as a solid. As heat is added to this substance it melts into a liquid at its melting point , boils into a gas at its boiling point, and if heated high enough would enter a plasma state in which the electrons...

eous mixture of air and water vapor) to the saturated vapor pressure
Vapor pressure
Vapor pressure or equilibrium vapor pressure is the pressure of a vapor in thermodynamic equilibrium with its condensed phases in a closed system. All liquids have a tendency to evaporate, and some solids can sublimate into a gaseous form...

 of water at a given temperature. In other words, relative humidity is the amount of water vapor in the air at a specific temperature compared to the maximum water vapor that the air is able to hold without it condensing
Condensation
Condensation is the change of the physical state of matter from gaseous phase into liquid phase, and is the reverse of vaporization. When the transition happens from the gaseous phase into the solid phase directly, the change is called deposition....

, at that given temperature. Relative humidity is expressed as a percentage and is calculated in the following manner:



where is the partial pressure
Partial pressure
In a mixture of ideal gases, each gas has a partial pressure which is the pressure which the gas would have if it alone occupied the volume. The total pressure of a gas mixture is the sum of the partial pressures of each individual gas in the mixture....

 of water vapor in the gas mixture; is the saturation vapor pressure of water at the temperature of the gas mixture; and is the relative humidity of the gas mixture being considered.

Relative humidity is an important metric
Metric (mathematics)
In mathematics, a metric or distance function is a function which defines a distance between elements of a set. A set with a metric is called a metric space. A metric induces a topology on a set but not all topologies can be generated by a metric...

 used in weather forecasts
Weather forecasting
Weather forecasting is the application of science and technology to predict the state of the atmosphere for a given location. Human beings have attempted to predict the weather informally for millennia, and formally since the nineteenth century...

 and reports, as it is an indicator of the likelihood of precipitation
Precipitation (meteorology)
In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation In meteorology, precipitation (also known as one of the classes of hydrometeors, which are atmospheric water phenomena is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapor that falls under gravity. The main forms of precipitation...

, dew, or fog. In hot summer weather
Weather
Weather is the state of the atmosphere, to the degree that it is hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy, clear or cloudy. Most weather phenomena occur in the troposphere, just below the stratosphere. Weather refers, generally, to day-to-day temperature and precipitation activity, whereas climate...

, a rise in relative humidity also increases the apparent temperature
Heat index
The heat index is an index that combines air temperature and relative humidity in an attempt to determine the human-perceived equivalent temperature — how hot it feels, termed the felt air temperature. The human body normally cools itself by perspiration, or sweating, which evaporates and carries...

 to human
Human
Humans are the only living species in the Homo genus...

s (and other animal
Animal
Animals are a major group of multicellular, eukaryotic organisms of the kingdom Animalia or Metazoa. Their body plan eventually becomes fixed as they develop, although some undergo a process of metamorphosis later on in their life. Most animals are motile, meaning they can move spontaneously and...

s) by hindering the evaporation
Evaporation
Evaporation is a type of vaporization of a liquid that occurs only on the surface of a liquid. The other type of vaporization is boiling, which, instead, occurs on the entire mass of the liquid....

 of perspiration from the skin as the relative humidity rises. For example, according to the Heat Index
Heat index
The heat index is an index that combines air temperature and relative humidity in an attempt to determine the human-perceived equivalent temperature — how hot it feels, termed the felt air temperature. The human body normally cools itself by perspiration, or sweating, which evaporates and carries...

, a relative humidity of 75% at 80°F (27°C) would feel like 83.574°F ±1.3 °F (28.652°C ±1.7 °C) at ~44% relative humidity.

Specific humidity


Specific humidity is the ratio of water vapor to dry air in a particular mass, and is sometimes referred to as humidity ratio. Specific humidity ratio is expressed as a ratio of grams of water vapor, , per kilogram of dry air
.

That ratio is defined as:


Specific humidity can be expressed in other ways including:


or:


Using the definition of specific humidity, the relative humidity can be expressed as


However, specific humidity is also defined as the ratio of water vapor to the total mass of the system in meteorology. "Mixing ratio" is used to name the definition in this section beginning.

Measurement


There are various devices used to measure and regulate humidity. A device used to measure humidity is called a psychrometer or hygrometer
Hygrometer
A hygrometer is an instrument used for measuring the moisture content in the environmental air, or humidity. Most measurement devices usually rely on measurements of some other quantity such as temperature, pressure, mass or a mechanical or electrical change in a substance as moisture is absorbed...

. A humidistat
Humidistat
An electronic device analogous to a thermostat but which responds to relative humidity not temperature. Humidistats are utilized in a number of devices including dehumidifiers, humidifiers, and microwave ovens...

 is used to regulate the humidity of a building with a dehumidifier
Dehumidifier
A dehumidifier is typically a household appliance that reduces the level of humidity in the air, usually for health reasons. Humid air can cause mold and mildew to grow inside homes, which pose various health risks. Very humid climates or air make some people extremely uncomfortable, causing...

. These can be analogous to a thermometer
Thermometer
Developed during the 16th and 17th centuries, a thermometer is a device that measures temperature or temperature gradient using a variety of different principles. A thermometer has two important elements: the temperature sensor Developed during the 16th and 17th centuries, a thermometer (from the...

 and thermostat
Thermostat
A thermostat is the component of a control system which regulates the temperature of a system so that the system's temperature is maintained near a desired setpoint temperature. The thermostat does this by switching heating or cooling devices on or off, or regulating the flow of a heat transfer...

 for temperature control.

Humidity is also measured on a global scale using remotely placed satellite
Satellite
In the context of spaceflight, a satellite is an object which has been placed into orbit by human endeavour. Such objects are sometimes called artificial satellites to distinguish them from natural satellites such as the Moon....

s. These satellites are able to detect the concentration of water in the troposphere
Troposphere
The troposphere is the lowest portion of Earth's atmosphere. It contains approximately 80% of the atmosphere's mass and 99% of its water vapor and aerosols....

 at altitudes between 4 and 12 kilometers. Satellites that can measure water vapor have sensors that are sensitive to infrared radiation
Infrared
Infrared light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength longer than that of visible light, measured from the nominal edge of visible red light at 0.74 micrometres , and extending conventionally to 300 µm...

. Water vapor specifically absorbs and re-radiates radiation in this spectral band. Satellite water vapor imagery plays an important role in monitoring climate conditions (like the formation of thunderstorms) and in the development of future weather forecasts.

Climate



While humidity itself is a climate variable, it also interacts strongly with other climate variables. The humidity is affected by winds and by rainfall. At the same time, humidity affects the energy budget and thereby influences temperatures in two major ways. First, water vapor in the atmosphere contains "latent" energy. During transpiration or evaporation, this latent heat
Latent heat
Latent heat is the heat released or absorbed by a chemical substance or a thermodynamic system during a process that occurs without a change in temperature. A typical example is a change of state of matter, meaning a phase transition such as the melting of ice or the boiling of water. The term was...

 is removed from surface liquid, cooling the earth's surface. This is the biggest non-radiative cooling effect at the surface. It compensates for roughly 70% of the average net radiative warming at the surface. Second, water vapor is the most important of all greenhouse gases. Water vapor, like a green lens that allows green light to pass through it but absorbs red light, is a "selective absorber". Along with other greenhouse gases, water vapor is transparent to most solar energy, as you can literally see. But it absorbs the infrared energy emitted (radiated) upward by the earth's surface, which is the reason that humid areas experience very little nocturnal cooling but dry desert regions cool considerably at night. This selective absorption causes the greenhouse effect. It raises the surface temperature substantially above its theoretical radiative equilibrium temperature with the sun, and water vapor is the cause of more of this warming than any other greenhouse gas.

The most humid cities on earth are generally located closer to the equator, near coastal regions. Cities in South
South Asia
South Asia, also known as Southern Asia, is the southern region of the Asian continent, which comprises the sub-Himalayan countries and, for some authorities , also includes the adjoining countries to the west and the east...

 and Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia
Southeast Asia, South-East Asia, South East Asia or Southeastern Asia is a subregion of Asia, consisting of the countries that are geographically south of China, east of India, west of New Guinea and north of Australia. The region lies on the intersection of geological plates, with heavy seismic...

 are among the most humid, such as Kolkata
Kolkata
Kolkata , formerly known as Calcutta, is the capital of the Indian state of West Bengal. Located on the east bank of the Hooghly River, it was the commercial capital of East India...

, Chennai
Chennai
Chennai , formerly known as Madras or Madarasapatinam , is the capital city of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, located on the Coromandel Coast off the Bay of Bengal. Chennai is the fourth most populous metropolitan area and the sixth most populous city in India...

 and Cochin in India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, the cities of Manila
Manila
Manila is the capital of the Philippines. It is one of the sixteen cities forming Metro Manila.Manila is located on the eastern shores of Manila Bay and is bordered by Navotas and Caloocan to the north, Quezon City to the northeast, San Juan and Mandaluyong to the east, Makati on the southeast,...

 in the Philippines
Philippines
The Philippines , officially known as the Republic of the Philippines , is a country in Southeast Asia in the western Pacific Ocean. To its north across the Luzon Strait lies Taiwan. West across the South China Sea sits Vietnam...

 and Bangkok
Bangkok
Bangkok is the capital and largest urban area city in Thailand. It is known in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon or simply Krung Thep , meaning "city of angels." The full name of Bangkok is Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom...

 in Thailand
Thailand
Thailand , officially the Kingdom of Thailand , formerly known as Siam , is a country located at the centre of the Indochina peninsula and Southeast Asia. It is bordered to the north by Burma and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia, and to the...

: these places experience extreme humidity during their rainy seasons combined with warmth giving the feel of a lukewarm sauna. Darwin, Australia experiences an extremely humid wet season from December to April. Shanghai
Shanghai
Shanghai is the largest city by population in China and the largest city proper in the world. It is one of the four province-level municipalities in the People's Republic of China, with a total population of over 23 million as of 2010...

 and Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

 in China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 also have an extreme humid period in their summer months. Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur is the capital and the second largest city in Malaysia by population. The city proper, making up an area of , has a population of 1.4 million as of 2010. Greater Kuala Lumpur, also known as the Klang Valley, is an urban agglomeration of 7.2 million...

 and Singapore
Singapore
Singapore , officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the...

 have very high humidity all year round because of their proximity to water bodies and the equator
Equator
An equator is the intersection of a sphere's surface with the plane perpendicular to the sphere's axis of rotation and containing the sphere's center of mass....

 and overcast weather. Perfectly clear days are dependent largely upon the season in which one decides to travel. During the South-west and North-east Monsoon seasons (respectively, late May to September and November to March), expect heavy rains and a relatively high humidity post-rainfall. Outside the monsoon seasons, humidity is high (in comparison to countries North of the Equator), but completely sunny days abound. In cooler places such as Northern Tasmania, Australia, high humidity is experienced all year due to the ocean between mainland Australia and Tasmania. In the summer the hot dry air is absorbed by this ocean and the temperature rarely climbs above 35 degrees Celsius.

In the United States the most humid cities, strictly in terms of relative humidity
Relative humidity
Relative humidity is a term used to describe the amount of water vapor in a mixture of air and water vapor. It is defined as the partial pressure of water vapor in the air-water mixture, given as a percentage of the saturated vapor pressure under those conditions...

, are Forks
Forks, Washington
-Government:The City is organized under Washington State law as a Non-charter Code City. Its structure is that of an elected Mayor and a five member elected City Council...

 and Olympia, Washington
Olympia, Washington
Olympia is the capital city of the U.S. state of Washington and the county seat of Thurston County. It was incorporated on January 28, 1859. The population was 46,478 at the 2010 census...

. This fact may come as a surprise to many, as the climate in this region rarely exhibits the discomfort usually associated with high humidity. Dew points are typically much lower on the West Coast than on the East. Because high dew points play a more significant role than relative humidity in the discomfort created during humid days, the air in these western cities usually does not feel "humid".

The highest dew points in the US are found in coastal Florida
Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

 and Texas
Texas
Texas is the second largest U.S. state by both area and population, and the largest state by area in the contiguous United States.The name, based on the Caddo word "Tejas" meaning "friends" or "allies", was applied by the Spanish to the Caddo themselves and to the region of their settlement in...

. When comparing Key West
Key West
Key West is an island in the Straits of Florida on the North American continent at the southernmost tip of the Florida Keys. Key West is home to the southernmost point in the Continental United States; the island is about from Cuba....

 and Houston, two of the most humid cities from those states, coastal Florida seems to have the higher dew points on average. However, Houston lacks the coastal breeze present in Key West, and, as a much larger city, it suffers from the urban heat island
Urban heat island
An urban heat island is a metropolitan area which is significantly warmer than its surrounding rural areas. The phenomenon was first investigated and described by Luke Howard in the 1810s, although he was not the one to name the phenomenon. The temperature difference usually is larger at night...

 effect. A dew point of 86 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded in southern Minnesota
Minnesota
Minnesota is a U.S. state located in the Midwestern United States. The twelfth largest state of the U.S., it is the twenty-first most populous, with 5.3 million residents. Minnesota was carved out of the eastern half of the Minnesota Territory and admitted to the Union as the thirty-second state...

 on July 23, 2005, though dew points over 80 degrees Fahrenheit are rare there.
The US city with the lowest annual humidity is Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas, Nevada
Las Vegas is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Nevada and is also the county seat of Clark County, Nevada. Las Vegas is an internationally renowned major resort city for gambling, shopping, and fine dining. The city bills itself as The Entertainment Capital of the World, and is famous...

, averaging 39% for a high and 21% as a low.

Air density and volume


Humidity depends on water vaporization and condensation, which, in turn, mainly depends on temperature. Therefore, when applying more pressure to a gas saturated with water, all components will initially decrease in volume approximately according to the ideal gas law
Ideal gas law
The ideal gas law is the equation of state of a hypothetical ideal gas. It is a good approximation to the behavior of many gases under many conditions, although it has several limitations. It was first stated by Émile Clapeyron in 1834 as a combination of Boyle's law and Charles's law...

. However, some of the water will condense until returning to almost the same humidity as before, giving the resulting total volume deviating from what the ideal gas law predicted. Conversely, decreasing temperature would also make some water condense, again making the final volume deviating from predicted by the ideal gas law. Therefore, gas volume may alternatively be expressed as the dry volume, excluding the humidity content. This fraction more accurately follows the ideal gas law. On the contrary the saturated volume is the volume a gas mixture would have if humidity was added to it until saturation (or 100% relative humidity).

Humid air is less dense than dry air because a molecule of water (M
Molecular mass
The molecular mass of a substance is the mass of one molecule of that substance, in unified atomic mass unit u...

 ≈ 18 u
Atomic mass unit
The unified atomic mass unit or dalton is a unit that is used for indicating mass on an atomic or molecular scale. It is defined as one twelfth of the rest mass of an unbound neutral atom of carbon-12 in its nuclear and electronic ground state, and has a value of...

 ) is less massive than either a molecule of nitrogen
Nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

 (M ≈ 28) or a molecule of oxygen
Oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

 (M ≈ 32). About 78% of the molecules in dry air are nitrogen (N2). Another 21% of the molecules in dry air are oxygen (O2). The final 1% of dry air is a mixture of other gases.

For any gas, at a given temperature and pressure, the number of molecules present in a particular volume is constant – see ideal gas law
Ideal gas law
The ideal gas law is the equation of state of a hypothetical ideal gas. It is a good approximation to the behavior of many gases under many conditions, although it has several limitations. It was first stated by Émile Clapeyron in 1834 as a combination of Boyle's law and Charles's law...

. So when water molecules (vapor) are introduced into that volume of dry air, the number of air molecules in the volume must decrease by the same number, if the temperature and pressure remain constant. (The addition of water molecules, or any other molecules, to a gas, without removal of an equal number of other molecules, will necessarily require a change in temperature, pressure, or total volume; that is, a change in at least one of these three parameters. If temperature and pressure remain constant, the volume increases, and the dry air molecules that were displaced will initially move out into the additional volume, after which the mixture will eventually become uniform through diffusion.) Hence the mass per unit volume of the gas—its density—decreases. Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...

 discovered this phenomenon and wrote about it in his book Opticks
Opticks
Opticks is a book written by English physicist Isaac Newton that was released to the public in 1704. It is about optics and the refraction of light, and is considered one of the great works of science in history...

.

Animals and plants


Humidity is one of the fundamental abiotic factors that defines any habitat, and is a determinant of which animals and plants can thrive in a given environment.

The human body sheds heat by a combination of evaporation of perspiration, heat convection in the surrounding air, and thermal radiation
Thermal radiation
Thermal radiation is electromagnetic radiation generated by the thermal motion of charged particles in matter. All matter with a temperature greater than absolute zero emits thermal radiation....

. Under conditions of high humidity, the evaporation of sweat from the skin decreases, and the body's efforts to maintain an acceptable body temperature may be significantly impaired. Also, if the atmosphere is as warm as or warmer than the skin during times of high humidity, blood
Blood
Blood is a specialized bodily fluid in animals that delivers necessary substances such as nutrients and oxygen to the cells and transports metabolic waste products away from those same cells....

 brought to the body surface cannot shed heat by conduction to the air, and a condition called hyperpyrexia results. With so much blood going to the external surface of the body, relatively less goes to the active muscle
Muscle
Muscle is a contractile tissue of animals and is derived from the mesodermal layer of embryonic germ cells. Muscle cells contain contractile filaments that move past each other and change the size of the cell. They are classified as skeletal, cardiac, or smooth muscles. Their function is to...

s, the brain
Human brain
The human brain has the same general structure as the brains of other mammals, but is over three times larger than the brain of a typical mammal with an equivalent body size. Estimates for the number of neurons in the human brain range from 80 to 120 billion...

, and other internal organs
Organ (anatomy)
In biology, an organ is a collection of tissues joined in structural unit to serve a common function. Usually there is a main tissue and sporadic tissues . The main tissue is the one that is unique for the specific organ. For example, main tissue in the heart is the myocardium, while sporadic are...

. Physical strength
Physical strength
Physical strength is the ability of a person or animal to exert force on physical objects using muscles. Increasing physical strength is the goal of strength training.-Overview:...

 declines, and fatigue
Fatigue (physical)
Fatigue is a state of awareness describing a range of afflictions, usually associated with physical and/or mental weakness, though varying from a general state of lethargy to a specific work-induced burning sensation within one's muscles...

 occurs sooner than it would otherwise. Alertness and mental capacity also may be affected, resulting in heat stroke or hyperthermia
Hyperthermia
Hyperthermia is an elevated body temperature due to failed thermoregulation. Hyperthermia occurs when the body produces or absorbs more heat than it can dissipate...

.

Human comfort


Humans control their body temperature mainly by sweating
Sweating
Perspiration is the production of a fluid consisting primarily of water as well as various dissolved solids , that is excreted by the sweat glands in the skin of mammals...

 and shivering
Shivering
Shivering is a bodily function in response to early hypothermia in warm-blooded animals. When the core body temperature drops, the shivering reflex is triggered to maintain homeostasis. Muscle groups around the vital organs begin to shake in small movements in an attempt to create warmth by...

. The United States Environmental Protection Agency
United States Environmental Protection Agency
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is an agency of the federal government of the United States charged with protecting human health and the environment, by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress...

 cites the ASHRAE Standard 55-1992, Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy, which recommends keeping relative humidity between 30% and 60%. At high humidity, sweating is less effective, and we feel hotter. At low humidity, the risk for nosebleeds increases, especially during cold winter seasons.

Some people experience difficulty breathing in high humidity environments. Some cases may possibly be related to respiratory conditions such as asthma
Asthma
Asthma is the common chronic inflammatory disease of the airways characterized by variable and recurring symptoms, reversible airflow obstruction, and bronchospasm. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath...

, while others may be the product of anxiety
Anxiety
Anxiety is a psychological and physiological state characterized by somatic, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral components. The root meaning of the word anxiety is 'to vex or trouble'; in either presence or absence of psychological stress, anxiety can create feelings of fear, worry, uneasiness,...

. Sufferers will often hyperventilate
Hyperventilation
Hyperventilation or overbreathing is the state of breathing faster or deeper than normal, causing excessive expulsion of circulating carbon dioxide. It can result from a psychological state such as a panic attack, from a physiological condition such as metabolic acidosis, can be brought about by...

 in response, causing sensations of numbness, faintness, and loss of concentration, among others.

Air conditioning
Air conditioning
An air conditioner is a home appliance, system, or mechanism designed to dehumidify and extract heat from an area. The cooling is done using a simple refrigeration cycle...

 works by reducing humidity in summer. In winter, heating cold outdoor air can decrease relative humidity levels indoor to below 30%, leading to discomfort such as dry skin and excessive thirst.

Electronics


Many electronic devices have humidity specifications, for example, 5% to 95%. At the top end of the range, moisture may increase the conductivity of permeable insulators leading to malfunction. Too low humidity may make materials brittle. A particular danger to electronic items, regardless of the stated operating humidity range, is condensation
Condensation
Condensation is the change of the physical state of matter from gaseous phase into liquid phase, and is the reverse of vaporization. When the transition happens from the gaseous phase into the solid phase directly, the change is called deposition....

. When an electronic item is moved from a cold place (e.g., garage, car, shed, an air conditioned space in the tropics) to a warm humid place (house, outside tropics), condensation may coat circuit boards and other insulators, leading to short circuit
Short circuit
A short circuit in an electrical circuit that allows a current to travel along an unintended path, often where essentially no electrical impedance is encountered....

 inside the equipment. Such short circuits may cause substantial permanent damage if the equipment is powered on before the condensation has evaporated. A similar condensation effect can often be observed when a person wearing glasses comes in from the cold. It is advisable to allow electronic equipment to acclimatise for several hours, after being brought in from the cold, before powering on. Some electronic devices can detect such a change and indicate, when plugged in and usually with a small droplet symbol, that they cannot be used until the risk from condensation has passed. In situations where time is critical, increasing air flow through the device's internals when, such as removing the side panel from a PC case and directing a fan to blow into the case will reduce significantly the time needed to acclimatise to the new environment.

On the opposite, very low humidity level favors the buildup of static electricity
Static electricity
Static electricity refers to the build-up of electric charge on the surface of objects. The static charges remain on an object until they either bleed off to ground or are quickly neutralized by a discharge. Static electricity can be contrasted with current electricity, which can be delivered...

, which may result in spontaneous shutdown of computers when discharges occur. Apart from spurious erratic function, electrostatic discharges can cause dielectric breakdown in solid state devices, resulting in irreversible damage. Data center
Data center
A data center is a facility used to house computer systems and associated components, such as telecommunications and storage systems...

s often monitor relative humidity levels for these reasons.

Building construction


Traditional building designs typically had weak insulation
Building insulation
building insulation refers broadly to any object in a building used as insulation for any purpose. While the majority of insulation in buildings is for thermal purposes, the term also applies to acoustic insulation, fire insulation, and impact insulation...

, and it allowed air moisture to flow freely between the interior and exterior. The energy-efficient, heavily-sealed architecture introduced in the 20th century also sealed off the movement of moisture, and this has resulted in a secondary problem of condensation
Condensation
Condensation is the change of the physical state of matter from gaseous phase into liquid phase, and is the reverse of vaporization. When the transition happens from the gaseous phase into the solid phase directly, the change is called deposition....

 forming in and around walls, which encourages the development of mold and mildew. Additionally, buildings with foundations not properly sealed will allow water to flow through the walls due to capillary action
Capillary action
Capillary action, or capilarity, is the ability of a liquid to flow against gravity where liquid spontanously rise in a narrow space such as between the hair of a paint-brush, in a thin tube, or in porous material such as paper or in some non-porous material such as liquified carbon fiber, or in a...

 of pores found in masonry products. Solutions for energy-efficient buildings that avoid condensation are a current topic of architecture.

See also

  • Relative humidity
    Relative humidity
    Relative humidity is a term used to describe the amount of water vapor in a mixture of air and water vapor. It is defined as the partial pressure of water vapor in the air-water mixture, given as a percentage of the saturated vapor pressure under those conditions...

  • Savory brittleness scale
    Savory brittleness scale
    The Savory brittleness scale is used to describe the annual distribution of humidity in a particular environment. It was developed by Allan Savory, a Zimbabwean biologist. The scale is used in land management because the distribution of humidity affects the way that land, particularly when...

  • Concentration
    Concentration
    In chemistry, concentration is defined as the abundance of a constituent divided by the total volume of a mixture. Four types can be distinguished: mass concentration, molar concentration, number concentration, and volume concentration...

  • Dew point
    Dew point
    The dew point is the temperature to which a given parcel of humid air must be cooled, at constant barometric pressure, for water vapor to condense into liquid water. The condensed water is called dew when it forms on a solid surface. The dew point is a saturation temperature.The dew point is...

    • Dew point depression
      Dew point depression
      The dew point depression is the difference between the temperature and dew point temperature at a certain height in the atmosphere....

  • Humidity indicator
    Humidity indicator
    A humidity indicator is a moisture-sensitive chemical that changes color when the indicated relative humidity is exceeded.Some chemicals are:* cobalt chloride * copper chloride...

  • Hygrometer
    Hygrometer
    A hygrometer is an instrument used for measuring the moisture content in the environmental air, or humidity. Most measurement devices usually rely on measurements of some other quantity such as temperature, pressure, mass or a mechanical or electrical change in a substance as moisture is absorbed...

    • Psychrometrics
      Psychrometrics
      Psychrometrics or psychrometry or Hygrometry are terms used to describe the field of engineering concerned with the determination of physical and thermodynamic properties of gas-vapor mixtures...


External links