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Oceanic Pressure

As depth increases in the ocean, the pressure exerted by the water increases.

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Watch out for the Bends

Watch out for the Bends

Credit: Jim Henderson
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Navy_Diver_Leaps_From_Helicopter_
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

How exciting! A U.S. Navy scuba diver leaps into the ocean from a helicopter. He’s going to dive deep below the surface. The tank on his back will supply him with fresh air so he can breathe. But, he’ll face a formidable foe under the water, one that could easily kill him.

Why It Matters

  • What foe will the diver face? The answer is water pressure. The pressure of the water on a deep-diver’s body can crush him. It can easily cause death.
  • Credit: Derek Keats
    Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dkeats/6654420081/
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Sea creatures like this octopus have evolved ways to deal with the high pressures underwater [Figure2]


  • Coming up from the extreme pressure of deep water to the much lower pressure at the surface is especially dangerous. Ascending too quickly can cause a fatal condition called “the bends.”
  • Watch this short video to learn why pressure is so great in the ocean and how it affects the human body.


Can You Apply It?

At the link below, read about the scuba diving experiences of a group of high school students on a field trip to Guatemala. Then answer the questions that follow.

  1. What is air pressure at sea level? What does air pressure measure?
  2. How much heavier is water than air? How deep below the surface is water pressure already twice that of the entire atmosphere?
  3. What does the term scuba stand for? What equipment does a scuba diver need?
  4. Why do many people develop toothaches, ear pain, or nosebleeds when they scuba dive?
  5. What happens to a diver’s lungs when the diver goes deep in the water? How does this affect the diver’s blood?
  6. Some divers develop a condition called nitrogen narcosis. What is it, and what causes it?
  7. What is the condition called “the bends”? When does it occur? What increases the risk of the bends developing?
  8. What can divers do to help prevent the bends?
  9. Boyles’ law states how the pressure and volume of a gas are related. Relate Boyle’s law to scuba diving.

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Jim Henderson; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Navy_Diver_Leaps_From_Helicopter_; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Derek Keats; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dkeats/6654420081/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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