A distributed-feedback InGaAs laser diode emitting near 1.393 µm is used in conjunction with an optical multipass cell that is open to the atmosphere to yield ambient water-vapor measurements by infrared absorption spectroscopy. To obtain the high dynamic range for the measurements that is required for continuous water-vapor monitoring in the upper troposphere and the lower stratosphere, we used a simple circuit that combined differential and direct detection. Furthermore, the laser emission wavelength was tuned to balance the steep decrease in H2O concentration with altitude by sweeping molecular transitions of stronger line strengths. The technique was implemented by use of the Spectromètre à Diodes Laser Accordables (SDLA), a tunable diode laser spectrometer operated from a stratospheric balloon. Absorption spectra of H2O in the 5–30-km altitude range obtained at 1-s intervals during recent balloon flights are reported. Water-vapor mixing ratios were retrieved from the absorption spectra by a fit to the full molecular line shape in conjunction with in situ pressure and temperature measurements, with a precision error ranging from 5% to 10%.
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