A wavelength modulated, distributed feedback diode laser based photoacoustic water vapor mixing ratio measuring system for atmospheric research applications is presented. Laser modulation parameters were optimized either at 180 or 500 mbar total pressure to enhance the system's sensitivity for low or high pressures (upper troposphere/lower stratosphere or biosphere exchange layer), respectively. A wavelength locking method was developed that ensured sub-picometer absolute (5 × 10-7 relative) wavelength stability of the laser while consuming minimum additional measurement time. At the calibration of the system, correction factors for the pressure- and temperature-dependence of the photoacoustic signal were determined, which were in turn applied to the calculation of the water vapor mixing ratio from the measured signal during the test operation of the system. The introduced features resulted in reliable, sub-ppm-level water vapor detection even under abrupt gas pressure or temperature variations typical in open atmospheric applications.
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