A system for measuring and monitoring water vapor concentration in a sample uses as a light source an argon discharge lamp, which inherently emits light with a spectral line that is close to a water vapor absorption line. In a preferred embodiment, the argon line is split by a magnetic field parallel to the direction of light propagation from the lamp into sets of components of downshifted and upshifted frequencies of approximately 1575 Gauss. The downshifted components are centered on a water vapor absorption line and are thus readily absorbed by water vapor in the sample; the upshifted components are moved away from that absorption line and are minimally absorbed. A polarization modulator alternately selects the upshifted components or downshifted components and passes the selected components to the sample. After transmission through the sample, the transmitted intensity of a component of the argon line varies as a result of absorption by the water vapor. The system then determines the concentration of water vapor in the sample based on differences in the transmitted intensity between the two sets of components. In alternative embodiments alternate selection of sets of components is achieved by selectively reversing the polarity of the magnetic field or by selectively supplying the magnetic field to the emitting plasma.