Ambient pressure

The ambient pressure on an object is the pressure of the surrounding medium, such as a gas or liquid, which comes into contact with the object.[1]


Within the atmosphere, the ambient pressure decreases with height above ground and by measuring ambient atmospheric pressure, a pilot may determine height (see pitot-static system). Near the ground, a change of ambient pressure of 1 millibar is taken to represent a change of height of 9 metres (30 ft).


The ambient pressure in water with a free surface is a combination of the hydrostatic pressure due to the weight of the water column and the atmospheric pressure on the free surface. This increases approximately linearly with depth. Since water is much denser than air, much greater changes in ambient pressure can be experienced under water. Each 10 metres (33 ft) of depth adds another bar to the ambient pressure.

Ambient pressure diving is underwater diving exposed to the water pressure at depth, rather than in a pressure-excluding Atmospheric diving suit or submersible.

Other environments

The concept is not limited to environments frequented by people. Almost any place in the universe will have an ambient pressure, from the hard vacuum of deep space to the interior of an exploding supernova. At extremely small scales the concept of pressure becomes irrelevant, and it is undefined at a gravitational singularity.

Units of pressure

Further information: Pressure § Units

The SI unit of pressure is the pascal (Pa), which is a very small unit relative to atmospheric pressure on Earth, so kilopascals (kPa) are more commonly used in this context. The ambient atmospheric pressure at sea level is not constant: it varies with the weather, but averages around 100 kPa. In fields such as meteorology and scuba diving, it is common to see ambient pressure expressed in bar or millibar. One bar is 100kPa or approximately ambient pressure at sea level. Ambient pressure may in other circumstances be measured in pounds per square inch (psi) or in atmospheres (atm). One atmosphere is also approximately the ambient pressure at sea level and is equal to 14.7 psi or 1.01325 bar, which is close enough for bar and atm to be used interchangeably in many applications.

Examples of ambient pressure in various environments

Pressures are given in terms of the normal ambient pressure experienced by humans — standard atmospheric pressure at sea level on earth.

Environment Typical ambient pressure
in standard atmospheres
Hard vacuum of outer space 0 atm
Surface of Mars, average 0.006 atm [2]
Top of Mount Everest 0.333 atm [3]
Pressurized passenger aircraft cabin altitude 8,000 ft (2,400 m) 0.76 atm[4]
Sea level atmospheric pressure 1 atm
10m depth in seawater 2 atm
20m depth in seawater 3 atm
Recreational diving depth limit (40m)[5] 5 atm
Common technical diving depth limit (100m)[6][7] 11 atm
Experimental ambient pressure dive maximum
(Maximum ambient pressure a human has survived)[8]
54 atm
Surface of Venus 92 atm [9]
1 km depth in seawater 101 atm
Deepest point in the Earth's oceans[10] 1100 atm
Centre of the Earth 3.3 to 3.6 million atm[11]
Centre of Jupiter 30 to 45 million atm[12]
Centre of the sun 244 billion atm [13]

See also


  1. McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Terms Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. "Sci-Tech Dictionary ambient pressure on". McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
  2. Bolonkin, Alexander A. (2009). Artificial Environments on Mars. Berlin Heidelberg: Springer. pp. 599–625. ISBN 978-3-642-03629-3.
  3. "Online high altitude oxygen calculator". Retrieved 15 August 2007.
  4. K. Baillie and A. Simpson. "Altitude oxygen calculator". Retrieved 2013-11-27. - Online interactive altitude oxygen calculator
  5. Brylske, A. (2006). Encyclopedia of Recreational Diving, 3rd edition. United States: PADI. ISBN 1-878663-01-1.
  8. Comex S.A. HYDRA 8 and HYDRA 10 test projects Archived August 4, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  9. "Venus: Facts & Figures". NASA. Retrieved 2007-04-12.
  10. "Scientists map Mariana Trench, deepest known section of ocean in the world". The Telegraph. 7 December 2011. Retrieved 24 September 2013.
  11. David. R. Lide, ed. (2006–2007). CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics (87th ed.). pp. j14–13.
  12. Elkins-Tanton, Linda T. (2006). Jupiter and Saturn. New York: Chelsea House. ISBN 0-8160-5196-8.
  13. Williams, David R. (September 1, 2004). "Sun Fact Sheet". NASA. Retrieved 12 January 2015.

Further reading

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