Gases In Diving

Knowledge of the properties and behavior of gases, especially those used for breathing, is vitally important to divers.

2-10.1 Atmospheric Air. The most common gas used in diving is atmospheric air, the composition of which is shown in Table 2-2. Any gases found in concentrations different than those in Table 2-2 or that are not listed in Table 2-2 are considered contaminants. Depending on weather and location, many industrial pollutants may be found in air. Carbon monoxide is the most commonly encountered and is often present around air compressor engine exhaust. Care must be taken to exclude the pollutants from the divers' compressed air by appropriate filtering, inlet location, and compressor maintenance. Water vapor in varying quantities is present in compressed air and its concentration is important in certain instances.

For most purposes and computations, diving air may be assumed to be composed of 79 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen. Besides air, varying mixtures of oxygen, nitrogen, and helium are commonly used in diving. While these gases are discussed separately, the gases themselves are almost always used in some mixture. Air is a naturally occurring mixture of most of them. In certain types of diving applications, special mixtures may be blended using one or more of the gases with oxygen.

2-10.2 Oxygen. Oxygen (O2) is the most important of all gases and is one of the most abundant elements on earth. Fire cannot burn without oxygen and people cannot survive without oxygen. Atmospheric air contains approximately 21 percent oxygen, which exists freely in a diatomic state (two atoms paired off to make one molecule). This colorless, odorless, tasteless, and active gas readily combines with other elements. From the air we breathe, only oxygen is actually used by the body. The other 79 percent of the air serves to dilute the oxygen. Pure 100 percent oxygen is often used for breathing in hospitals, aircraft, and hyperbaric medical

Table 2-2. Components of Dry Atmospheric Air.

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