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Water vapor is a small but significant constituent of the atmosphere, warming the planet due to the greenhouse effect and condensing to form clouds which both warm and cool the Earth in different circumstances. A key feature of global atmospheric water vapor convection is the Intertropical Convergence Zone, the low pressure region within five degrees of the equator where the trade winds converge and solar heating of the atmosphere forces the water-laden air to rise in altitude, form clouds, and then precipitate as rain in the afternoon. This visualization shows the global water vapor distribution in gray and white and the global precipitation in yellow every hour from December 20, 1997 to January 14, 1998. The afternoon thunderstorms in the tropics are seen as a flashing yellow region that moves from east to west, following the sun. This is an El Nino period, when the water to the west of South America is warmer than normal, allowing the atmosphere there to heat up and hold more water. This region feeds a high band of water vapor reaching to the southeastern United States and causes increased humidity and rainfall in that region. This data is from the Goddard Earth Modeling System, a coupled land-ocean-atmosphere model which uses earth and satellite-based observations to simulate the Earths physical system during events such as El Nino.
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