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Steamy Relationships: How Atmospheric Water Vapor Supercharges Earth's Greenhouse Effect

Water vapor is Earth’s most abundant greenhouse gas. It’s responsible for about half of Earth’s greenhouse effect — the process that occurs when gases in Earth’s atmosphere trap the Sun’s heat. Greenhouse gases keep our planet livable. Without them, Earth’s surface temperature would be about 59 degrees Fahrenheit (33 degrees Celsius) colder. Water vapor is also a key part of Earth’s water cycle: the path that all water follows as it moves around Earth’s atmosphere, land, and ocean as liquid water, solid ice, and gaseous water vapor.

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