Water in the Atmosphere : Different Forms of Water

We all use water for drinking, sanitation, industries and farming , but do you know water is available in many forms in our surrounding atmosphere ?

Water is present in the atmosphere in three forms namely – gaseous,liquid and solid. The moisture in the atmosphere is derived from water bodies through evaporation and from plants through transpiration. Thus, there is a continuous exchange of water between the atmosphere, the oceans and the continents through the processes of evaporation, transpiration, condensation and precipitation.


Water vapour present in the air is known as humidity. It is expressed quantitatively in different ways. The actual amount of the water vapour present in the atmosphere is known as the absolute humidity. 

Absolute humidity :It is the weight of water vapour per unit volume of air and is expressed in terms of grams per cubic metre. The ability of the air to hold water vapour depends entirelyon its temperature. The absolute humidity differs from place to place on the surface of the earth. 

Relative Humidity  :The percentage of moisture present in the atmosphere as compared to its full capacityat a given temperature is known as the relative humidity. 

With the change of air temperature,the capacity to retain moisture increases or decreases and the relative humidity is also affected. It is greater over the oceans and least over the continents.

The air containing moisture to its full capacity at a given temperature is said to be saturated. It means that the air at the given temperature is incapable of holding any additional amount of moisture at that stage.

The temperature at which saturation occurs in a given sample of air is known as dew point.


The amount of water vapour in the atmosphere is added or withdrawn due to evaporation and condensation respectively. Evaporation is a process by which water is transformed from liquid to gaseous state.

 Heat is the main cause for evaporation. The temperature at which the water starts evaporating is referred to as the latent heat of vaporization.

Increase in temperature increases water absorption and retention capacity of the given parcel of air. Similarly, if the moisture content is low, air has a potentiality of absorbing and retaining moisture. 

Movement of air replaces the saturated layer with the unsaturated layer.Hence, the greater the movement of air, the greater is the evaporation. 

The transformation of water vapour into water is called condensation. Condensation is caused by the loss of heat. When moist air is cooled, it may reach a level when its capacity to hold water vapour ceases. Then, the excess water vapour condenses into liquid form. If it directly condenses into solid form, it is known as sublimation.

After condensation the water vapour or the moisture in the atmosphere takes one of the following forms — dew, frost, fog and clouds.

Forms of condensation can be classified on the basis of temperature and location. Condensation takes place when the dew point is lower than the freezing point as well as higher than the freezing point.


When the moisture is deposited in the form of water droplets on cooler surfaces of solid objects (rather than nuclei in air above the surface) such as stones, grass blades and plant leaves, it is known as dew. The ideal conditions for its formation are clear sky, calm air, high relative humidity, and cold and long nights. For the formation of dew, it is necessary that the dew point is above the freezing point.


Frost forms on cold surfaces when condensation takes place below freezing point (0 Degree C), i.e. the dew point is at or below the freezing point. The excess moisture is deposited in the form of minute ice crystals instead of water droplets. 
The ideal conditions for the formation of white frost are the same as those for the formation of dew, except that the air temperature must be at or below the freezing point.

Fog and Mist

When the temperature of an air mass containing a large quantity of water vapour falls all of a sudden, condensation takes place within itself on fine dust particles. So, the fog is a cloud with its base at or very near to the ground.

Because of the fog and mist, the visibility becomes poor to zero. In urban and industrial centers smoke provides plenty of nuclei which help the formation of fog and mist. Such a condition when fog is mixed with smoke, is described as smog. 
The only difference between the mist and fog is that mist contains more moisture than the fog. In mist each nuclei contains a thicker layer of moisture. Mists are frequent over mountains as the rising warm
air up the slopes meets a cold surface. Fogs are drier than mist and they are prevalent where warm currents of air come in contact with cold currents. 

Fogs are mini clouds in which condensation takes place around nuclei provided by the dust, smoke, and the salt particles.


Cloud is a mass of minute water droplets or tiny crystals of ice formed by the condensation of the water vapour in free air at considerable elevations. 

As the clouds are formed at some height over the surface of the earth, they take various shapes. According to their height, expanse, density and transparency or opaqueness clouds are grouped under four types : (i) cirrus; (ii) cumulus; (iii) stratus;(iv) nimbus.

So in this article we can see the different types of water available in atmosphere. 

Reference : NCERT Book class 11