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The Physics of

Diving
NOAA Diving Manual
Fourth Edition

Overview
Physics is the field of science dealing with
matter and energy and their interactions.
This presentation explores physical laws
and principles that pertain to the diving
environment and its influence on the diver.
The principles of physics provide the
keystone for understanding the reasons for
employing various diving procedures.

Pressure
Pressure is force acting on a unit area
Pressure = force / area
P = F/A
In the USA pressure is typically measured in pounds per
square inch (psi).
Underwater a diver is underwater is affected by 2 kinds of
pressure

The pressure exerted by the atmosphere

The pressure exerted by the surrounding water

A diver, at any depth, must be in pressure balance with the

forces at that depth.

Atmospheric Pressure
This is the pressure exerted by the earths
atmosphere.
At sea level it is equal to 14.7 psi, or one
atmosphere (atm).
It decreases with altitude above sea level.
For example, at 18,000 ft. atmospheric pressure is
7.35 psi or half that at sea level.
An pressure inside an individuals lungs at sea
level are at equilibrium with the surrounding
pressure 1atm

Hydrostatic Pressure
This pressure is created by the weight of
water - called hydrostatic pressure.
This pressure is cumulative. The deeper
the dive, the more water above the diver
and the greater the weight of the water.
Hydrostatic pressure affects the diver from
all sides equally.

Hydrostatic Pressure
In seawater:
hydrostatic pressure increases at a rate of .445 psi per
foot you descend.
One ata (14.7 psi) of hydrostatic pressure is reached at
a depth of 33 & increases 1 atm for every additional 33
thereafter.

In freshwater:
hydrostatic pressure increases at a rate of .432 psi per
foot you descend.
One ata (14.7 psi) of hydrostatic pressure is reached at
a depth of 34& increases 1 atm for every additional34
thereafter.

Absolute Pressure
The sum of atmospheric pressure plus
hydrostatic pressure is called absolute
pressure.
It can be expressed as: psia (pounds per
square inch absolute), ata (atmospheres
absolute), fswa (feet of seawater
absolute), ffwa (feet of freshwater
absolute), or mmHga (millimeters of
mercury absolute.

Gauge Pressure
The difference between atmospheric
pressure and the pressure being measured
is gauge pressure.
The zero psi reading on a scuba cylinder
pressure gauge at sea level is actually
equal to 14.7 psi.
Gauge pressure + 14.7 = ata

Partial Pressure
Daltons Law
In mixture of gases, the proportion of the
total pressure contributed by each gas in
the mixture is called the partial pressure.
For our purposes air is composed of 21%
oxygen and 79% nitrogen.

Density
Density can be defined as weight per unit
volume

Density = Weight / Volume or D = W / V

Density is expressed in lbs/ft3 or g/cm3
Gas density is related to absolute pressure.
Density is directly proportional to pressure
As depth increases, the density of the breathing gas
and becomes heavier per unit volume.

Density
Seawater has a density of 64 pounds per
cubic foot.
Freshwater has a density of 62.4 pounds
per cubic foot.
As a result, freshwater floats on top of
seawater
a diver is more buoyant, given the same
conditions, in seawater than in freshwater.

Specific Gravity
Specific gravity is the ratio of the weight of a
given volume of a substance (density) to that of
an equal volume of another substance.
Water is the standard for liquids and solids.
Air is the standard for gases.

Freshwater has a specific gravity of 1.0

Substances that are more dense than freshwater have
a specific gravity greater than 1.0.

The specific gravity of seawater is 64/62.4 =

1.026

Water
Freshwater (H2O):
is odorless, tasteless and very slightly
compressible.
It freezes at 32oF (0C), and boils at 212oF
(100C).
In its purest form, it is a poor conductor of
electricity.

Water
Seawater:
Contains almost every substance known.
The most abundant chemical is sodium
chloride (common table salt).
Seawater is a good conductor of electricity.

pH
The pH of an aqueous solution expresses the
level of acids or alkalis present.
The pH of a liquid can range from 0 (strongly
acidic) to 14 (strongly alkaline).
A pH of 7 is considered neutral
The pH level in the blood is what signals the
brain the need to breathe.
Too much CO2 causes the blood to become acidic.
One way the body reduces the acidity is to increase
ventilations

Units of Measurement
There are two systems for specifying force,
length and time: English and the International
System of Units (SI).
also known as Metric.

The English System is based on the pound, the

foot, and the second.
Primarily use in the United States

The International System of Units is based on

the kilogram, the meter, and the second.
Used everywhere else

Length
1 meter = 39.37 in = 3.28 ft.
To convert 10 feet to meters:
10 ft / 3.28 ft/m = 3.05 m

Convert 10 meters to feet:

10 m X 3.28 ft/m = 32.8 ft

Area
In both the English and IS system, area is
expressed as a length squared.
For example:
A room that is 12 feet by 10 feet would have
an area of 120 square feet (12 ft x 10 ft).
A room that is 3.66 m by 3.05 m would have
an area of 11.16 square meters.

Volume
Volume is expressed in units of length
cubed.
Length x Width x Height = cubic feet (ft3)
or cubic meters (m3)
The English System, in addition to ft3, uses
other units of volume such as gallons.
The SI uses the liter (l). A liter = 1000 cubic
centimeters (cm3) or .001 cubic meters (m3),
which is one milliliter (ml).

Weight
The pound (lb) is the standard measure
of weight in the English System.
The kilogram (kg) is the standard
measure of weight in the International
System of Units.
One liter of water at 4C weighs 1 kg or 2.2
lbs.
1liter (l) = 1 kg = 2.2 lbs

Weight
(conversions)
Convert 180 pounds to kilograms:
180 lbs / 2.2 lbs/kg = 81.8 kg

Convert 82 kilograms to pounds:

82 kg X 2.2 lbs/kg = 180.4 lbs

Temperature
Heat is associated with the motion of
molecules.
The more rapidly the molecules move, the
higher the temperature.
Temperature is usually measured either
with the Fahrenheit (F) scale or with the
Celsius (centigrade) scale (C).

Temperature
Temperature must be converted to
absolute when the gas laws are used.
The absolute temperature scales, which
use Rankine (R) or Kelvin (K), are based
on absolute zero (the lowest temperature
that can possibly be reached).
Note that the degree symbol () is only
used with Fahrenheit temperatures.

Temperature
(conversions)
The Fahrenheit (F) and Rankine (R) temperature
scales are used in the English System.
To convert Fahrenheit to absolute temperature Rankine
oF + 460 = R

The Celsius (C) and Kelvin (K) temperature scales

are used in the International System of Units.
To convert Celsius to absolute temperature Kelvin
C + 273 = K

Temperature
(conversions)

To convert from Fahrenheit to Celsius

C = 5/9 X (oF 32)

To convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit

oF = (9/5 X C) + 32

Heat
An often forgotten but extremely important
consideration in diving
Humans can only function effectively in a
very narrow range of internal
temperatures.
Maintaining the proper body core
temperature is critical
This can be dont by utilizing the proper
exposure protection suit

Buoyancy
Archimedes Principle
Any object wholly or partly immersed in a
fluid is buoyed up by a force equal to the
weight of the fluid displaced by the object

Buoyancy
Positive Buoyancy is achieved if the weight of
the displaced water (total displacement) is
greater than the weight of the submerged object.
Object floats

Negative Buoyancy is achieved if the weight of

the displaced water (total displacement) is less
than the weight of the submerged object.
Object sinks

Neutral Buoyancy is achieved if the weight of

the displaced water (total displacement) is equal
to the weight of the water.
Object is suspended)

Buoyancy
Buoyancy is dependent upon the density
of the surrounding liquid.
Remember:
Seawater has a density of 64 pounds per
cubic foot.
Freshwater has a density of 62.4 pounds per
cubic foot.

Gases Associated with Diving

Atmospheric Air - 21% O2 + 79% N2
Oxygen - O2
The most important of all gases.
Usually used for decompression gas

Nitrogen N2
Helium He

A natural by-product of metabolism

Carbon Monoxide CO

Argon Ar

Neon Ne

Hydrogen H2

Not very common in diving

Gas Laws

Boyles Law
Charles/Gay-Lussacs Law
Daltons Law
Henrys Law
General Gas Law

Gas Laws
Boyles Law
For any gas at a constant
temperature, the volume of the gas
will vary inversely with the pressure

Gas Laws
Boyles Law
P1V1 = P2V2
P1= initial pressure surface absolute
V1= initial volume in cubic feet
P2=final pressure absolute
V2=final volume in cubic feet

Gas Laws
Boyles Law
Determine the volume (V2) of a 24 ft3 open bottom diving
bell with at 66 fsw:
P1 = 1 ata
V1 = 24 ft3
P2 = 3 ata
V2= (P1V1) / P2
V2 = (1ata x 24 ft3) / 3 ata
V2 = 8 ft3

Gas Laws
Charles/Gay-Lussacs Law
For any gas at a constant
pressure, the volume of the gas
will vary directly with the absolute
temperature or for any gas at a
constant volume, the pressure of
the gas will vary directly with the
absolute temperature.

Gas Laws
Charles Law
Volume Change
(pressure remains constant)

V1 / V2 = T1 / T2
V1 = volume initial
T1 = temperature initial
V2 = volume final
T2 = temperature final

Gas Laws
Gay-Lussacs Law
Pressure Change
(volume remains constant)

P1 / P2 = T1 / T2
P1 = pressure initial
T1 = temperature initial
P2 = pressure final
T2 = temperature final

Gas Laws
Daltons Law
The total pressure exerted by a
mixture of gases is equal to the
sum of the pressures of each of
the different gases making up the
mixture, with each gas acting as if
it alone was present and occupied
the total volume.

Gas Laws
Henrys Law
The amount of any gas that will
dissolve in a liquid at a given
temperature is proportional to the
partial pressure of that gas in
equilibrium with the liquid and the
solubility coefficient of the gas in
the particular liquid.

Gas Laws
General Gas Law
Commonly called the Ideal Gas Law
Used to predict the behavior of a given
quantity of gas when changes may be
expected in any or all of the variables
Combines
Charles Law
Boyles Law

Humidity
Water vapor (a gas) behaves in
accordance with the gas laws.
The water vapor condenses at
temperatures we are likely to encounter
while diving, hence humidity is an
important consideration

Light
Human eyes can only perceive a very
narrow range of wave lengths (visible light)
Water slows the speed at which light travels.
This causes the light rays to bend or refract
with a mask on the light rays are bent twice

Objects appear 25 % larger.

Turbidity can also effect vision by making
objects appear farther than it really is.

Light
Colors
Water absorbs light according to its wavelength
Red is the first color lost
Blue eventually become the dominant color at
deeper depths

As depth increases the ability to discern colors

decreases until visible objects are
distinguishable only by differences in
brightness. Contrast becomes the most
important factor.

Sound
Sound is produced by pressure waves
triggered by vibration
The more dense the medium through
which sound travels, the faster the speed
of sound.
Sound travels roughly 4 times faster in
water than in air
This makes detecting the origin of the sound
very difficult.