Water in its three ambient phases plays the central thermodynamic role in the terrestrial climate system. Clouds control Earth's radiation balance, atmospheric water vapour is the strongest 'greenhouse' gas, and non-equilibrium relative humidity at the air-sea interface drives evaporation and latent heat export from the ocean. In this paper, we examine the climatologically relevant atmospheric relative humidity, noting fundamental deficiencies in the definition of this key observable. The metrological history of this quantity is reviewed, problems with its current definition and measurement practice are analysed, and options for future improvements are discussed in conjunction with the recent seawater standard TEOS-10. It is concluded that the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM), in cooperation with the International Association for the Properties of Water and Steam (IAPWS), along with other international organizations and institutions, can make significant contributions by developing and recommending state-of-the-art solutions, such as are suggested here, for what are long-standing metrological problems.
- relative humidity