My assignment is to create a report that emphasises on the important of chemistry more specifically the gas laws in scuba diving. I know that Dalton's Law is when the total pressure of a gas mixture equals the sum of the partial pressures that make up the mixture but i don't know how it relates to scuba diving. Can someone give me some hints?


1 Answer 1


In scuba diving it is essential to consider the partial pressures of different gases for the following reasons:

  1. The partial pressure of oxygen should be greather than 0.16 bar to avoid hypoxia (at the surface this partial pressure is obviously 0.21 bar).
  2. Oxygen is toxic at high partial pressure. For the dive one want to stay as close as possible to 1.3-1.4 bar (maximum), while decompression is made with maximum 1.6 bar.
  3. Nitrogen is narcotic at high partial pressure and we usually try not to go higher to partial pressure similar to what we have at 30-35m.

As an example consider a deep technical dive to 80m (9 bar). If you have air in your tank (21% oxygen, 79% nutrogen), the partial pressure of oxygen will be $$pp_{\ce{O2}} = p_\text{tot} \times x_{\ce{O2}} = 9\times0.21=1.89 > 1.6,$$ thus you are in serious danger because of oxygen toxicity (visual changes, nausea, anxiety, irritability, confusion, dizziness, tonic-clonic seizure, ...) which can lead to death. If you want to have an optimal oxygen partial pressure of 1.4 you will need to reduce your oxygen content to 15% (less than air). But since the partial pressure of this new mixture at the surface is 0.15 < 0.16 you should not start your dive with this tank.

In conclusion, what it is really important for your body is the partial pressure of the gas you are breathing, not the absolute pressure. Dalton's law is necessary to compute the different partial pressures.

This argument is quite advanced for scuba diving an you will have to search for technical diving in order to find the necessary informations. You may also want to look at other interesting physical phenomena that are important for scuba diving (Boyle's law, Charle's law, ...).

  • $\begingroup$ I would say that it's not just Dalton's law in effect here. Henry's Law is the main factor in solubility of gases in a solvent (in this case blood) . $\endgroup$ Jun 7, 2016 at 14:30
  • $\begingroup$ @shre_sudh_97 There is plenty of physics and physiology behind diving! (One of my favourite phoenomena is the isobaric counterdiffusion.) That's why I suggested the OP to look at technical diving articles and different phenomena in order to get the broader picture. However Dalton's law is necessary to compute the partial pressure at different depth in order to choose the optimal gas mixture for that depth. $\endgroup$
    – user23061
    Jun 7, 2016 at 14:38

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