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How do I convert specific humidity to relative humidity? What other variables do I need (air temperature, pressure...?)

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2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Relative humidity is just $e/e_s$, the ratio of the vapor pressure to saturation vapor pressure or or $w/w_s$, the ratio of mass mixing ratios of water vapor at actual and saturation values. If you have specific humidity, which is the mass mixing ratio of water vapor in air, defined as:

$$ q \equiv \dfrac{m_v}{m_v + m_d} = \dfrac{w}{w+1} \approx w.$$

Relative humidity can be expressed as the ratio of water vapor mixing ratio to saturation water vapor mixing ratio, $w/w_s$, where:

$$ w_s \equiv \dfrac{m_{vs}}{m_d} = \dfrac{e_s R_d}{R_v(p-e_s)} \approx 0.622\dfrac{e_s}{p},$$

and from Clausius-Clapeyron:

$$ e_s(T) = e_{s0}\exp\left[\left(\dfrac{L_v(T)}{R_v}\right)\left(\dfrac{1}{T_0} -\dfrac{1}{T} \right)\right] \approx 611\exp\left(\dfrac{17.67(T-T_0)}{T-29.65}\right).$$

Once you have calculated $w$ and $w_s$ you can obtain the relative humidity as:

$$ RH = 100\dfrac{w}{w_s} \approx 0.263pq\left[\exp\left(\dfrac{17.67(T-T_0)}{T-29.65}\right)\right]^{-1}. $$

You could also calculate $RH = 100(e/e_s)$, but I think since you are starting with $q$ it isn't as straightforward as doing it this way.

Variables used:
$q$ specific humidity or the mass mixing ratio of water vapor to total air (dimensionless)
$m_v$ specific mass of water vapor (kg)
$m_{vs}$ specific mass of water vapor at equilibrium (kg)
$m_d$ specific mass of dry air (kg)
$w$ mass mixing ratio of water vapor to dry air (dimensionless)
$w_s$ mass mixing ratio of water vapor to dry air at equilibrium (dimensionless)
$e_s(T)$ saturation vapor pressure (Pa)
$e_{s0}$ saturation vapor pressure at $T_0$ (Pa)
$R_d$ specific gas constant for dry air (J kg$^{-1}$ K$^{-1}$)
$R_v$ specific gas constant for water vapor (J kg$^{-1}$ K$^{-1}$)
$p$ pressure (Pa)
$L_v(T)$ specific enthalpy of vaporization (J kg$^{-1}$)
$T$ temperature (K)
$T_0$ reference temperature (typically 273.16 K) (K)

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Here is an implementation that I wrote in R (with documentation in the header). In addition to laboriously working through a few textbooks and online references, I have compared the results to a psychrometric chart.

As you have likely noticed, it is a challenge to keep these terms and units straight - I wish I had @casey`s answer then!

##' Convert specific humidity to relative humidity
##' converting specific humidity into relative humidity
##' NCEP surface flux data does not have RH
##' from Bolton 1980 The computation of Equivalent Potential Temperature 
##' \url{http://www.eol.ucar.edu/projects/ceop/dm/documents/refdata_report/eqns.html}
##' @title qair2rh
##' @param qair specific humidity, dimensionless (e.g. kg/kg) ratio of water mass / total air mass
##' @param temp degrees C
##' @param press pressure in mb
##' @return rh relative humidity, ratio of actual water mixing ratio to saturation mixing ratio
##' @export
##' @author David LeBauer
qair2rh <- function(qair, temp, press = 1013.25){
    es <-  6.112 * exp((17.67 * temp)/(temp + 243.5))
    e <- qair * press / (0.378 * qair + 0.622)
    rh <- e / es
    rh[rh > 1] <- 1
    rh[rh < 0] <- 0

Similar variable conversion functions can be found in the metutils.R file in the PEcAn data.atmosphere library.

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