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|Subject: Pressure and thickness Thu Dec 16, 2010 5:24 pm|| |
Pressure and thickness
Main article: Atmospheric pressure
The average atmospheric pressure at sea level is about 1 atmosphere (atm) = 101.3 kPa (kilopascals) = 14.7 psi (pounds per square inch) = 760 torr = 29.9 inches of mercury (symbol Hg). Total atmospheric mass is 5.1480×1018 kg (1.135×1019 lb), about 2.5% less than would be inferred naively from the average sea level pressure and the Earth's area of 51007.2 megahectares, this defect having been displaced by the Earth's mountainous terrain. Atmospheric pressure is the total weight of the air above unit area at the point where the pressure is measured. Thus air pressure varies with location and time, because the amount of air above the Earth's surface varies.
If atmospheric density were to remain constant with height the atmosphere would terminate abruptly at 8.50 km (27,900 ft). Instead, density decreases with height, dropping by 50% at an altitude of about 5.6 km (18,000 ft). As a result the pressure decrease is approximately exponential with height, so that pressure decreases by a factor of two approximately every 5.6 km (18,000 ft) and by a factor of e = 2.718… approximately every 7.64 km (25,100 ft), the latter being the average scale height of Earth's atmosphere below 70 km (43 mi; 230,000 ft). However, because of changes in temperature, average molecular weight, and gravity throughout the atmospheric column, the dependence of atmospheric pressure on altitude is modeled by separate equations for each of the layers listed above. Even in the exosphere, the atmosphere is still present. This can be seen by the effects of atmospheric drag on satellites.
In summary, the equations of pressure by altitude in the above references can be used directly to estimate atmospheric thickness. However, the following published data are given for reference:
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