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Barometer Altitude Compensation

Whether mercurial or aneroid, altitude affects all barometers. With a little patience and minute adjustments, compensating a barometer at altitude is easy.
Ramah Time and Tide Clock

High Flying Effects
As we go to higher elevations, the air gets thinner. Even if you cannot tell a difference, a barometer certainly can. Barometers measure pressure an internal sensor. Mercury barometers measure pressure on the cistern. Aneroid barometers measure pressure through a complex mechanism of springs and bellows. Less air means less pressure, which in turn gives a low reading on a barometer.

The Problem
Barometers are calibrated to sea level pressure. However, as altitude increases, the rate-of-change of pressure with altitude does not make a linear match. In other words:

  • Every 30-foot gain in altitude corresponds to a 1 millibar decrease in pressure.
  • However, barometers are scaled to work up to about 4,000 feet.
  • Beyond that, the pressure changes do not measure up to the evenly-spaced millibar notches.

The Solution
The bad news is mercury-filled barometers cannot be effectively calibrated at altitude. Besides, these barometers must also make a complicated gravity correction. Aneroid barometers, however, have a scale that can be adjusted as needed. They are usually accurate enough for casual barometer use. By adjusting this scale, the barometer reading is offset for the correction.

An Important Note
Though adjusted, the barometer cannot certainly display an accurate reading as dynamic pressure systems come in and out of the area. That said, the best way to ensure barometers are properly compensating for altitude difference is through a comparison. Agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) continually broadcast weather information for hundreds of regions. Check in with their barometer readings to keep yours timely and accurate.

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