From Wikipedia:

The dew point is the temperature at which the water vapor in a sample of air at constant barometric pressure condenses into liquid water at the same rate at which it evaporates. At temperatures below the dew point, water will leave the air.

I am wondering what is is about the air which determines how much $\ce{H2O}$ vapour can be stored in a set volume of air at a set temperature without the water condensing back to liquid water. Also, why is it that at higher temperatures the air can hold a greater amount of water vapour?


1 Answer 1


One way to understand this is if you think of air as bunch of atoms and molecules moving around in random fashion. The speed at which they move is measured by the temperature of air. (This is true even if we are not talking about air, but we don't need to bother about that here.) So when we say higher temperature we mean that the speed at which these particles move is higher. Furthermore the faster they move the less likely they are to stick together.

Now water molecules like to stick to each other and when too many of them are together they "condense". But if you were to increase the temperature of the air (and hence the water molecules), they end up moving around faster and less likely to stick together. This way you can add more water molecules for the same amount of air.

The other thing to think about is pressure. In some sense it describes how crowded the place is. The higher the pressure, the more crowded it is. So when you increase the pressure, you increase the chances that the water molecules will stick together and hence "condense".

Another way to think about this is through Le Çhatelier's principle, which states that when a system in equilibrium (especially chemical equilibrium) is disturbed it tries to adjust in a way which minimizes the disturbance.

So now think of a box with some water and air. If you leave it long enough the system will reach an equilibrium, wherein no more water will evaporate or condense. But say now you increase the temperature of the air, the system will try to readjust so as to reduce the change in temperature. To do this it will cause the water to evaporate (as evaporation requires/consumes heat) and thereby reducing the change in temperature. Similarly when you increase the pressure which is similar to decreasing the volume of the box, the air tries to account for this by condensing out some of the water (since liquid water occupies less volume than gaseous water), thereby reducing the effective decrease in volume seen by the air.

You may wonder why other particles in air do not "condense." They do, but only at much lower temperatures and/or higher pressures.


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