Does the Air Volume in a Scuba Tank Change As You Descend?

If you read the PADI Scuba Diving Instruction Manual or watch the DVD you may get the impression that the volume of air in a scuba tank decreases as you descend. I'm 99% sure this is wrong i.e. the volume of air doesn't change. I even asked about it during the in-person scuba classes, but the instructor, dive master, and the rest of the students agreed with the manual even though not one of them could explain how air in a rigid, sealed tank could be affected by outside air pressure.

I knew something was amiss when I heard these descriptions of what was happening:

  • Osmosis was in effect allowing the pressure from the outside of the tank to seep into the interior of the tank. The problem with this is that osmosis would require the aluminum or steel sides of the tank to be permeable. They aren't.
  • Since the volume of the air decreases, the remaining space in the tank is a vacuum. The problem with this is that a vacuum is a low pressure are so how could the high pressure air and the low pressure vacuum exist next to each other?

It took me a while to come up with a good way to describe the way I was thinking about the problem, but now I've got one.

  1. Imaging you're pressing your finger against someone's forehead. You are, in effect, applying pressure in the same way as the air (or water) around us does. Of course, the pressure you're applying is focused on a limited area.
  2. If you put a sponge in between your finger and the person's forehead, the person will still feel pressure. This is because your finger is applying pressure to the sponge and the sponge is applying pressure to the person.
  3. If instead you have the person stand on one side of a wall and you stand on the other side, you can press all you want against the wall and the person won't feel a thing. This is because the wall is rigid. All of the pressure you're applying with your finger is absorbed by the wall and distributed along its structure. This is how a scuba tank works. The water pressure isn't great enough to deform the tank walls and so the pressure doesn't “get in” i.e. the volume of the air inside stays constant (until you start sucking air out of it).

I'd love to discuss this more with other divers, but I refrained from doing so during the class. I didn't want to be one of those guys. Perhaps after a dive one day when the food is plenty, drinks are flowing, and everyone is in a good mood.

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  1. Excellent question and forum. I can 100% clear this up.
    I am an avid diver. I am also a physician, and studied physics prior to med school (that’s my background).
    1. The dive tank doesn’t deform—the pressure inside the tank is the same regardless of depth. Of course, as we continue to breath and consume air, it’s pressure decreases.
    2. As we dive deeper, the pressure around our body increases.
    3. When we talk about “pressure”, we are talking about the difference in pressure between two places. In diving, we are talking about the pressure difference inside our lungs versus the pressure of the water around us.
    4. The pressure inside our lungs is always the same as our entire chest cavity—they are one system, for all intents and purposes—I am not withholding information—the pressure of the lungs is the same as the chest cavity at any instant.
    5. The pressure in our lungs/chest cavity ranges from negative to positive through the full breathing cycle. In order for air to flow, there MUST be a pressure difference between our lungs/chest cavity and the surrounding pressure. At rest, the pressure in our lungs is zero (it is the same as the pressure around our body), and zero pressure difference means no air flow in or out—we are at rest.
    When we breath in, our diaphragm muscle contracts, pushing down on our abdominal cavity and therefore increasing the volume inside our chest. This negative pressure inside our chest means air flow in from the outside, where pressure is greater.
    We continue to breath until our lungs fill up. The more our diaphragm contract, the greater the negative pressure, and the greater our lungs fill up. But, once the pressure inside our lungs equals the pressure around us, airflow stops—this is when we stop taking in air.
    Then, we exhale. The diaphragm relaxes, pushing into our chest cavity and increasing the pressure—air flows out. We continue to exhale until the pressure in our lungs, once again, equals the pressure around us.


    -So, at rest, lung pressure is zero (same as pressure around us).
    -When we initiate a breath, pressure inside our lungs/chest cavity is negative.
    -When we exhale, pressure inside our lungs/chest cavity is positive.
    So, pressure inside our lungs/chest cavity ranges from less than surrounding pressure all the way to GREATER than surrounding pressure throughout every breath cycle.

    At greater depths, our diaphragm has to contract more in order for us to breath. Now, we take more or less the same VOLUME of breath, regardless of pressure around us—as long as our exertion stays the same. Let’s say we breath in 600mls of air with each breath. We breath in 600 mls at sea level as well as under water. That is when our brains say, “This is a full breath—we are good, stop breathing”.

    None of the above explains why we consume more air at greater depth.

    The reason we consume more air at greater depth is because of the design of SCUBA regulators.

    There is a diaphragm on the back of the mouthpiece. It is the diaphragm to the second stage of our regulator. When we breath in (creating a negative pressure, or “suction” to our second stage regulator) it triggers a piston valve to open. Medium (but HIGHER pressure) air from first stage pours into our second stage. As it pours into the second stage, the pressure of their air decreases. How much does it decrease? It decreases to the exact pressure of the surrounding ambient pressure, because of that soft diaphragm on the logo portion of our SCUBA mouthpiece. And that is exactly why we consume more air at depth. It is 100% due to the design of our regulators.

    Interestingly, if we were contained inside a very large closed chamber (like, say, a submarine) when at depth under the water, we would NOT consume more air with each breath, unless something mechanically were to change the pressure inside submarines. I’ve never been in a submarine, so I don’t know if they mechanically alter the pressure. But my point is, if the pressure inside a submarine was exactly the same as it was at sea level, the amount of air consumed (the number of molecules consumed) with each breath would be exactly the same. This is a big no brainer, I know. But I’m just tying it all together.

    To summarize, we consume more air at depth SOLELY because of the mechanical design of our regulators.

    Sorry dive masters. You can disagree all you want. But unless you agree with the above, remember that your wrong.

  2. Hi, I have a question related to this as well please.
    I've heard the same comments made by Dive Instructors myself and I would bite my lip for the same reason, the volume IN the tank is NOT affected by the external pressure.
    But here is the question as it comes up in the class.
    In an emergency situation, ESA/CESA, Out of Air at depth, as you come up there will be another breath of air and then another as you get closer to the surface.
    I experimented on this (I'm an experienced diver, I did this with redundant equipment and a Dive buddy for safety.)
    AT 90ft down, cut off the tank air and took a couple breaths until out, Then with my Pony bottle Reg in hand at the ready if needed, I ascended at the prescribed 60ft per minute (I was only down 2-3 minutes just to get to this experimental depth. I plan my dives, then dive my Plan,,,) as I ascended, There was another breath and then another. And by that I mean I was able to draw a breath from the second stage. Mind you, there was NOT enough for a safety stop, but more than enough for me to reach the surface.
    WHERE did it come from?
    NOT the tank, it was shut off, eliminating the whole flexing metal BS..
    Not the First stage as this is practically all metal and also does not flex..
    The second stage? it does retain a little air, but only roughly one breath on demand.. Although there is maybe a little leeway here in that the air in the second stage could possible expand as you go up... But I do not believe it would provide a FULL breath coming up and I experienced a FULL three breaths coming up.
    The Hose? This is the only flexible component in a standard Reg set???
    DON'T even start about the Lungs air expanding, because you CANNOT blow air back into the second stage and draw it back out, even if you think that, the air you draw would be your exhale air, high in CO2...
    Please do not respond just to Hate on me, I'll report and delete those.
    Thank You

    • Not a diver - a physics lecturer.
      I think I can answer your question though.
      Your second stage contains an amount (a volume and a mass) of air up to whatever valve in your regulator (?) keeps in their until you take a breath.

      I fyou change depth enough, the pressure in the surrounding water and you will decrease, but the pressure trapped in that chamber stays the same. So say you move up so that the pressure in the water halves. The pressure in that chamber is now double the surroundings, including in your lungs. If allowed to it would now occupy twice the volume and decrease in denisty.

      So you open the valve and half the mass of air escapes (volume stays constant of course) into you as a breath.

      You then come up a bit more, halving the pressure again.
      Once more the air in the second stage is double that of the surroundings, so you can take another breath for the same reason. The difference is that this breath, while it has the same volume as the last in your lungs, contains half the mass of air. Essentially the air gets thinner or less dense.

      It is the same reasoning as your instructors will have told you about why you breath more air when you're at depth. Each breath is more dense despite having the same volume and therefore you burn through your mass of gas faster.

      Again not a diver, but I do see this effect in all sorts of other similar ways.

  3. A few things to summarize the physics:

    Your scuba cylinder will not change volume as you dive, but logically, it will change in pressure as air is breathed out of it. Its volume will not change because it is rigid, and its inner pressure is always significantly greater than the outer pressure against it.

    The reason that you consume more air at depth is because of the water pressure's effect on your body. This is seen as you equalize going down, the pressure changes are evident. As you go deeper the water pressure on your body increases, as it is not a rigid structure like the cylinder. This is barely noticeable in most parts of your body, as they do not contain gasses, or they contain a trace amount of gas (e.g. the bends), but it is to your lungs.

    For example at sea level, the pressure on your lungs is 1 atm, and if you take a full breath you breathe in a volume V.

    At 33 ft down, the pressure is now 2 atm, and you would breathe in a volume V, but it would be twice the pressure of the volume V at the surface. The same number of air molecules is present in 2V of the surface as in 1V at 33ft below.

    This is because the outer pressure on your non-rigid lungs is greater at depth than at sea level, so to fill them up enough to get them to the same volume on the surface it takes more air.

    How come you don't breathe for twice as long then?

    This is because of the regulator. No matter what depth you are at, the volume from your tank through your first stage and hoses does not change, and their pressure only changes when you breathe. As we discussed, their inner pressure is significantly greater than the wanter's outer pressure. However, your second stage (regulator), through mechanics that don't need to be discussed in detail, adjusts to the outside water pressure, allowing it to dispense gas at approximately the same pressure as the outside water. This is why a regulator is used, and not a ball valve you open and shut every time you want to breathe.

    Therefore the reason you breathe more gas at depth is because your lungs, and lungs only are experiencing greater outer pressure, and your regulator is merely accounting for it. Your lungs are still filling to the same volume no matter what depth you are at, it is the pressure inside your lungs that changes.

    I used no equations for simplicity. I hope this clarifies all the confusion above.

  4. NAUI instructor here. This thread is humorous when I see there are instructors telling divers that air INSIDE a sealed metal tank gets compressed at depth. No it doesnt lol.

    If the air inside your tank were to compress...then your tank's psi would go down the deeper you dive...even without breathing.

    The only thing that changes at depth is the number of air molecules required to give you a breath of air...this is because the water pressure is able to compress your lungs...which are flexible...not compress the tank....which is rigid.

    Let's assume it takes 100 molecules of air to fill your lungs at sea level. That means it would take 200 molecules of air to fill your lungs at 33 feet down.

    This is what your 1st stage regulator is for. It "regulates" the amount (number of air molecules) of air you get out of the tank with each breath so no matter how deep you go, you can still get a lung full if you want.

    Then ACTUAL volume of air INSIDE your tank does not compress. Although...if you want to assume doesnt really change anything 🤷‍♂️.

  5. The volume cannot change in a fixed vessel. The reason you use more air at depth is because there is more dense air coming out of the regulator than at the surface. At 33 ft, it takes twice as much air (twice the density and pressure, same volume) to fill your lungs. So basically, more air is coming through the regulator. The air inside the tank is unaffected by depth.

  6. Something doesn’t make sense.

    The volume of an 80 ft^3 tank with 3000 PSI doesn’t change regardless of depth. The tank, being inflexible, resists the force of increased outside pressure so no pressure is exerted on the gas inside the tank.

    Since the pressure inside the tank is 3,000 at the surface and remains 3,000 at depth, volume in the tank CAN’T be affected because if there is no change in pressure, there can be no change in volume (the former always affects the latter per Boyle’s law).

    All of the magic happens outside the tank at the regulator in response to pressure/volume changes. A larger volume of air per breath is consumed from the tank at depth than at the surface causing a more rapid decrease in pressure of the tank.

    You could cause the same affect at the surface by increasing the volume of gas consumed proportionately (like two people breathing from the same tank at the surface...all other adjustments accounted for).

    Boyle’s law isn’t any different inside or outside the tank, it’s just that the tank resists external pressure changes (and internal ones or it would grow when you filled it).

    • Bottom line is this, the molecules of air in the tank move closer together. The tank has the same amount of air in it but because the molecules move closer
      together you breath the air up faster. It has nothing to do with what the tank is made out of or whether you are using air or Nitrox.

      It has to do with depth. The deeper you are the more the air molecules move
      closer together, which means at 66 feet your air won't last as long as if you were
      at 33 feet.

      • Hi Pamela,

        You are almost correct however you are incorrect in one small but very, very important regard.

        As hydrostatic pressure of the water increases with depth (pressure at depth) the density of gas in the tank remains constant; meaning that the molecules in the tank do not get squeezed together past the initial fill pressure.

        This is because a scuba tank is a rigid vessel that cannot transfer pressure from the water to the gas- which is evident because the walls of the tank don’t deform under pressure.

        What is really happening is that as air leaves you secondary stage regulator and into your lungs, you LUNGS are subject to the hydrostatic pressure of the water, because it is pushing on your chest.

        The primary stage regulator of a scuba system is designed to maintain a steady intermittent pressure, which is the pressure between you tank and your secondary stage.

        As the gas leaves the secondary stage regulator into your body it is immediately compressed in your lungs by the water pressing on your chest (which is not rigid, it’s flexible, like a membrane) then the molecules get squeezed together and the gas becomes denser.

        As depth and pressure increase, your secondary stage will deliver gas at a high velocity and your primary stage regulator will maintain a steady intermediate pressure by releasing more gas from the tank.

        What this all means is that the gas inside the tank is NEVER effected by the hydrostatic water pressure. You breathe more gas at depth because the regulator system delivers more gas proportional to depth as the gas molecules are squeezed together in your lungs.

        Hope this clears things up. I am not an expert however I am a mechanical engineering student (and experienced diver) working on submarine ballast systems, where the relationships between pressure, depth, regulators and tanks is extremely important.

        I recommend reading this thread on regulator performed at depth if you interested:

        • To anybody readIng this discussion this, I have been subscribed to this page for well over a year and occasionally get updated when a new post arrives.

          It is chalked full of opinions from people who have neither the expertise nor experience to speak about such things.

          James R said it best at the beginning.

          I recommend asking about this on an engineering forum, where the people who design these systems would be, if you want a more concise and accurate response.

      • The molecules inside the tank are already under pressure, much more pressure than the surrounding pressure on the tank. Those molecules would not be effected by the surrounding pressure until they leave the tank. That is when the molecules expand relative to the pressure exerted on them outside of the take. That is also why you use up your air faster. You are breathing in more molecules of air because your lungs are under more pressure. The pressure inside the tank cannot and does not change. It’s simply being removed at a faster rate.

  7. The short and simple answer is that volume of gas changes with depth. See Boyle's Law, "Assuming temperature remains constant, pressure and volume are inversely proportionate" (meaning as pressure outside the tank increases, it's volume decreases and vise versa). This is why you're not supposed to hold your breath while ascending on scuba or surface supplied breathing mediums. The formula for this is P1 V1=P2 V2. So as pressure doubles, the volume decreases by half. This is why your tank will never last very long the deeper you dive, as you are consuming more gas due to the volume being compressed at depth. Someone made a comment about a vacuum within the tank...that doesn't happen. the pressure outside the tank is simply exerting more pressure on the tank causing the volume to decrease. This happens with your lungs as well. If you want a good example of this, try 3 experiments...1, take an empty bottle of soda onto an airplane. when you get to altitude, open it...air escapes. Now cap it off...when you land, you'll find that the bottle has collapsed in on itself. this is because at altitude, the pressure is less, therefore the volume of gas in the soda bottle has expanded, and on landing, the pressure of the atmosphere has decreased the volume in the bottle because the pressure is greater on the ground than at 33,000 feet. Experiment 2, take an empty bottle down with you the next time you'll notice that the bottle has collapsed on on the airplane, the pressure of the water column is decreasing the volume within the bottle, causing it to collapse. now pretend you have a means of pressurizing the bottle with air at depth...when you get to surface, the bottle will expand, just like it did in the airplane, or will likely explode. The 3rd experiment is simply opening a bottle of soda with soda in it. The Co2 within the bottle is saturated in solution, due to a greater pressure in the bottle. when you release the pressure, the Co2 is freed from the solution forming bubbles. This is why we shouldn't ascend faster than 33fpm, and why we take deco stops after certain times at certain depths.

    So as the atmospheric pressure doubles, the volume within a container decreases. There is about 5 or 6 different gas laws that affect divers. The Combined Gas Law ironically allows you to figure out ALOT of things when it comes to the relationship of gas pressure/volume to the outside world affecting it. The mathematics behind it are far beyond the necessary information required for a scuba diver, however, Gay-Lussac's Gas Law is a good one to know, because it deals with the correlation of pressure-temperature relation...basically, if you have an 80FT^3 cylinder at 3,000psi, the cylinder relief valve will activate if the temperature gets too hot, because the pressure increases as the temperature increases.

    Now, some of the others here, have mentioned the shape of the vessel containing the does NOT matter what the shape of the container is, the laws apply all the same...for a cylinder, cube, pyramid, etc shaped, as the pressure increases, the volume decreases. PERIOD. The volume of an 80FT^3 cube or spherical tank at 3,000psi, is going to be exactly the same volume of gas as an 80ft^3, 3,000psi cylinder.

    Whoever is teaching that your gas volume always remains constant regardless of depth, needs to stop teaching that, as it can get someone killed.

    Hope this clears the air for you (pun intended lol).

    • I have to disagree. While your experiments are spot on, they don't simulate a scuba tank because the volume of the tank doesn't change i.e. the sides don't expand or contract like those of a plastic bottle.

      If what you say is right and the volume of the CO2 is compressed in a scuba tank, what occupies the space now that the CO2 has been compressed? It can't be nothing or else the CO2 would just expand to fill it.

      Note that I'm not debating whether CO2 expands or contracts under pressure. I'm debating what my PADI instructor was saying that the CO2 inside a tank gets compressed under pressure.

      • Marios,

        You somehow are getting confused with the PSI in the tank and the VOLUME in the tank. The PSI within a tank is not affected by depth. But volume is affected. Boyle's Law doesn't respect the type of container. Indeed, there IS a bit of correlation between the two though, but I've already explained that.

        Now, if you want further proof, there is another experiment you can conduct which involves a balloon and glass jar. I have never conducted it myself, however, one of my commercial diving instructors did this, and reported that the balloon within the glass jar had decreased in size, the deeper he went...If the atmosphere around a rigid container did not affect the air inside it...why did the balloon get smaller. <<>>>>

        In reference to the space occupied...The gas within the tank is the same gas as before, just at a lower pressure and volume. Nothing replaces the existing gas except for the gas itself. Lets take a refrigerated substance, such as Liquefied Propane Gas (LPG). 1^3 inch of LPG under pressure, will turn into 277^3 inch of Gaseous Propane when the pressure will release. The purpose of the example is to show, when you have 1^3 inch of LPG in a tank, as the pressure inside releases, the LPG expands into its gaseous state, to fill the void and maintain pressure to keep the LPG from boiling off and causing a really bad day.

        • Ooops. I meant oxygen. I deal with CO2 canisters too and had them on the brain when I was replying :-) I'll give that balloon video a watch and maybe it'll convince me. At least we can agree that PSI isn't affected by depth!

        • So a bunch of searches later and I can't find anything that explicitly says what I'm saying about how the volume of oxygen in a cylinder changes or doesn't change as you descend. However, if the volume of air changed in a sealed container due to outside pressure, wouldn't there be problems for people in submarines and airplanes?

        • The internal volume doesn’t change, because the scuba tank is a rigid body. The internal pressure also doesn’t change. Human body is not rigid so it’s a different story.

          As you scuba dive, the water above you is applying pressure on your lungs (it literally squeezes your chest), it takes 2x the air volume to fill your lungs 33 feet under water (2x atmosphere of pressure above you), 3x at 66 feet... this means, for example, that “you have 4x less air in your tank at 100 feet under water”, and your gauge pressure will be releasing 3 atmosphere of pressure in order to fill the same amount of volume in your lungs (pushing back against the 3x atmosphere above your head).

          In the depth of the sea, pressurized “open” bells are often used in order for divers to easily move in/out when working on underwater structures. Because the bell is open, water wants to rush in from the bottom so it’s filled with pressured air at multiple atmospheres to fullly fill it with air (because it’s open for water to rush in). The downside is divers are breathing highly pressured air, and must decompress as they transition into a lower pressure environment (coming back up, or getting into a sub, with air at 1 atmosphere). Such bells are often used to do rescue operations in sunk ship where people survived in pockets of highly pressured air: water rushing in but leaving no place for the air to escape, so the air will compress into a smaller volume at higher pressure (equivalent to water pressure at that depth)... people surviving in those pockets of air are breathing highly compressed air, and divers would rescue them by transitioning them to such a bell and slowly ascend up to ensure air in their body get recycled with lower pressure air as they ascend.

          In a submarine, for comfort, the pressure is usually held at 1 atmosphere even at great depth, so the hull doesn’t receive any “help” from the internal pressure to combat the extreme external pressure of the water trying to rush in / crush in. The hull are just built to sustain huge amount of pressure.

        • David,

          You are making all sorts of false assumptions.

          You stated that pressure in a tank isn’t effected by depth, but volume is.

          That’s nonsense, they are DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL.

          The ONLY way for a volume of gas in a rigid vessel to be effected by water would be though a temperature gradient. Water is an excellent thermal conductor and would likely cool the air inside the balloon enough to facilitate a drop in pressure and thus volume. This is easily understood by the ideal gas law.

    • Flexible container versus rigid container, scuba cylinder is rigid, no change at depth within as long as no gas was drawn off, flexible container as lungs, air spaces etc, volume changes according to pressure changes. Volume never changes within a cylinder until it is released for breathing, air bags, leaks, etc.

      Volume nor pressure change while inside a scuba cylinder that does not leak gas in any way.

  8. You are correct. The volume of a scuba tank is fixed. A gas will fill the volume of a container. So, the volume of air in a scuba tank is fixed. As a scuba tank is filled with air, more gas gets compressed into the fixed volume increasing the pressure. As a diver breathes the air, gas is released decreasing the pressure. Therefore, scuba tank pressure is directly correlated to the mass of air inside the tank. So a diver knows how much air mass is in the fixed volume of his tank based on the pressure. This is why a pressure gauge tells the diver how much breathable air is remaining.

    As a diver breathes underwater, air comes out the regulator at a fixed pressure (about 150 psi). However, immediately upon release from the regulator, the air is affected by ambient pressure. So, at 1 atm of depth, where it is double the pressure, the air is compressed in half as it comes out the regulator. So, the diver must get twice as much air out of the tank compared to the surface, since the air is immediately compressed in half. In other words, the diver must inhale twice as much air to fill the same volume of his lungs where the ambient pressure is double, since the air is immediately pressurized by the depth as it comes out the regulator. This is why divers use more air at deeper depths.

    • I'm confused. Let's imagine a scenario in which you have a tank filled with breathable air. Let's imagine that when the diver breathes this mix at sea level that they are receiving X number of atoms per ml, and that the tank will provide them with Y ml of gas. Now let's imagine that same tank and diver at 1 atm of pressure. The diver will have .5Y ml of gas, but he will receive 2X atoms per ml. The gas will be compressed, but they will still receive the same number of moles of each gaseous element that they need for cellular respiration...and life. Does it really matter what volume of space those molecules are occupying in your lungs? I can't imagine that the chemical reactions of cellular respiration care. If they have the molecules, then the reaction should proceed.

      • Maybe the volume occupied is important because the oxygen needs to be absorbed by the lungs and so the less volume, the less contact there is with the lung lining.

      • See Matt's response below. I'll add that your lungs have a volume, too, about 6 liters. So you must breathe 6 liters of air every breath (actually less). At the surface, let's say 6 liters of air has 1000 molecules of air. At 1 atm of depth, that 6 liters of air has 2000 molecules of air. So, at depth, you are breathing more air molecules to fill the same volume of gas in your lungs. Since there is a fixed amount of gas molecules compressed in your scuba tank, you use air faster the deeper you are.

        Your cells still respirate at the same rate, so your body is still using the same amount of oxygen, even though you are breathing in twice as much into your lungs. The remaining unused oxygen is exhaled. However, inert gas, such as nitrogen, is absorbed by your tissues at the higher pressure. The rate of off-gassing of nitrogen from your tissues must be calculated with a dive chart or dive computer to prevent decompression sickness. If you ascend too fast, the nitrogen will form bubbles in your blood stream, like opening a soda can, and can kill you.

        • But your lungs don't have to breathe in 6 liters of air every breath. I know that air tanks don't last as long at depth, but I still don't think we've hit the reason why.

  9. Thanks for the article. I was in the middle of reading my PADI dive manual and I was confused because I thought they were implying that the volume inside of the tank was shrinking...

  10. I was searching this topic again today and re-discovered this discussion. I had one more thought to add.

    Think of the air in your tank as a fixed quantity of oxygen molecules rather than a volume or a pressure because those are difficult concepts to visualize.

    Say you've got a million molecules of air in your tank (in reality it's vastly more than that) and you use about 1000 per breath at sea level.

    The reason you use 1000 molecules per breath here is because that's the same air pressure that's surrounding you. About 14 pounds per square inch. That's actually quite a bit of pressure, but you don't even notice it because a) most of your body is liquid or solid and not very compressible and b) the air pockets in your body are at exactly the same pressure as your surroundings.

    At double that pressure you'd have air trying to force its way into your ears, nose and mouth to equalize with the pressure of the surrounding air. It would feel like a tight bear hug around your chest. You could probably seal your mouth tight enough to not let air in, but the longer you hold it the more it's goign to hurt. So you breath in, pop your ears and it feels better. But now you've got 2000 air molecules in your chest instead of just 1000.

    The air in your lungs wasn't compressed to fill only half the available capacity, but higher pressure air was trying to sneak in at any vulnerable place to equalize.

    The same thing happens under water, except obviously it's water trying to force its way in, not air, so you have to bring some compressed air along with you.

    I've got 1 million molecules in my tank. That's 1000 breaths at the surface. But if I go down to 33 feet now I have to breath in 2000 molecules just to keep the water from bear hugging my chest cavity or rupture my ear drums.

    Don't worry about the pressure or volume of the tank. The pressure is constantly decreasing with every breath but the volume is remaining the same. All that matters is the molecule count. Go down to 66 feet and now you need 3000 molecules to equalize with the water pressure.

    The outside water pressure is having absolutely no effect on the volume or pressure within your tank. It's a sealed system and it's at a WAY higher pressure than the water around you. If anything your tank is trying to bulge outwards, not shrink inward. Your regulator is designed to release air at exactly the same pressure as the surroundings. But the quantity of air in the tank is not finite. Every breath you take decreases the mass of air inside. The deeper you are the more you're drawing out with every breath.

  11. It doesn't change*, this is nonsense. A scuba tank is nothing more than a pressure vessel. Seen those big LPG tanks outside of motels or at camping grounds? Same idea. That's why it's a round cylinder - a sphere would be best but they're rather impractical. Submarines and airplanes are typically cylinders for exactly the same reason.

    I suspect what they meant (at some point) is that at pressure you use more and more air since you're equalized with the pressure of the water and obviously the air has to be at that pressure.. which would make it denser.. etc - that's the whole point of scuba after all. My guess is this somehow got corrupted into meaning the tank air is getting compressed? Utter nonsense.

    *: If you want to be incredibly anal, technically it would be getting compressed a teensy amount as the tank's shape would distort slightly as you went deeper into the water (and/or as you used up air since that would have the same effect of changing the relative pressures). This is so small that it'd be very difficult to measure. You'd need a very precise pressure gauge and would probably need to lower a tank down pretty deep to get a reading. At some point you would notice an increase in pressure but for all practical scuba purposes this is completely irrelevant.

    • It's not possible to see an increase in pressure the deeper you go, because the temperature is decreasing. As a gas temperature increases, the pressure will decrease. I don't have it handy at the moment, but there is a gas law that explains this correlation. Probably Charles' Law? That one comes into mind.

      • As temperature increases the volume and pressure will increase accordingly.

        Please stop spreading misinformation on this page. You are WRONG about everything! Your understanding of the relationships between pressure, temperature and volume are fundamentally flawed. You cannot speak with such inaccuracies when teaching people about the physics of an inherently dangerous activity.

        Shame on you.

  12. I had exactly the same thought when I was doing my PADI dive training. There's simply no way that external water pressure is "squeezing" the air in your tank the same way it physically squeezes the air in your BCD's air bladders.

    And they've got it backwards anyway....the pressure inside your tank is still HIGHER than the water pressure around it. Your tank is at 3000psi. Many times greater than the water pressure even at 100 feet (around 40 or 50psi I think)

    You use air faster at lower depths not because the water pressure is squeezing it into a smaller volume, but because your regulator doesn't reduce the air pressure as much, meaning you use a higher percentage of the air in the tank with every breath. Your regulator is designed to deliver air at the same pressure as the surroundings, so if you're in 40psi water, it only delivers 40psi of air. If you're in shallower water it delivers lower pressure air. The volume remains contant because your lung volume isn't changing.

    • Yes, there is. Pressure affects volume exactly the same, whether it is a rigid, or flexible container. As depth (pressure) increases, gas volume decreases. the only difference, is that the rigid container doesn't respond to the pressure differential as the flexible container will. You guys need to get rid of the idea of pressure of the tank has something to so with consumption of air, and use volume of the's why... at the surface, a 6FT^3 pony bottle at 3000psi contains 6FT^3. Likewise, An 80FT^3 bottle at 3000psi has a volume of 80FT^3. the pony bottle at the surface with a pressure of 1500psi contains 3FT^3, and an 80FT^3 bottle at 1500psi contains 40FT^3. At 33FSW (1ATA), the pony has a volume of 3FT^3 at 3000psi, and the 80FT^3 bottle has 40FT^3 of gas at 3000psi. The PSI of the air has nothing to do with the Volume for the purpose ya'll are trying to use it for...the amount of gas you breathe is based on volume, not PSI. The pressure of the cylinder remains constant at any depth (for the purpose of the statement, assume you have a a separate bottle not used for breathing at 3000psi and 80FT^3), but the volume does not. When you breathe gas at 3 feet, you have a longer bottom time, than if you were breathing at 33, or 60 feet, because the volume is more concentrated.

      • You wrote: "As depth (pressure) increases, gas volume decreases. The only difference, is that the rigid container doesn't respond to the pressure differential as the flexible container will."

        If we assume that's true, can you tell me what is occupying the space that has been vacated by the oxygen that has reduced volume?

      • There's a lot of inconsistency in what you're saying and you beautifully contradict yourself all by yourself. From Boyle Mariotte's law, we have P1*V1 = P2*V2. However, as you descend deeper, the tank does not crush itself, the walls do not move and the shape remains exactly the same as on the surface. We deduce that V1 = V2. So from the previous equation we derive P1 = P2 and thus we can conclude that the pressure in the tank remains the same as at the surface.
        If that is still not enough to convince you, we can trivially understand that if the pressure in the bottle is much higher than the hydrostatic pressure and the atmospheric pressure. At 330FT, which is already very deep for scuba diving, the pressure is 1600PSI, which is almost a two times less than the tank pressure of 2900 PSI. So from this observation we can deduce that it is absolutely impossible that the deep pressure can crush the volume of the bottle.
        If you are still not convinced, I advise you to stop teaching diving.

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