Device used to measure atmospheric pressure. Because atmospheric pressure changes with distance above or below sea level, a barometer can also be used to measure altitude. In the mercury barometer, atmospheric pressure balances a column of mercury, the height of which can be precisely measured. Normal atmospheric pressure is about 14.7 lb per square inch, equivalent to 30 in. (760 mm) of mercury. Other liquids can be used in barometers, but mercury is the most common because of its great density. An aneroid barometer indicates pressure on a dial using a needle that is mechanically linked to a partially evacuated chamber, which responds to pressure changes.
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Torricelli documented that the height of the mercury in a barometer changed slightly each day and concluded that this was due to the changing pressure in the atmosphere. He wrote: "We live submerged at the bottom of an ocean of elementary air, which is known by incontestable experiments to have weight".
The mercury barometer's design gives rise to the expression of atmospheric pressure in inches or millimeters (torr): the pressure is quoted as the level of the mercury's height in the vertical column. 1 atmosphere is equivalent to about 29.9 inches, or 760 millimeters, of mercury. The use of this unit is still popular in the United States, although it has been disused in favor of SI or metric units in other parts of the world. Barometers of this type normally measure atmospheric pressures between 28 and 31 inches of mercury.
Design changes to make the instrument more sensitive, simpler to read, and easier to transport resulted in variations such as the basin, siphon, wheel, cistern, Fortin, multiple folded, stereometric, and balance barometers. Fitzroy barometers combine the standard mercury barometer with a thermometer, as well as a guide of how to interpret pressure changes.
An aneroid barometer uses a small, flexible metal box called an aneroid cell. This aneroid capsule(cell) is made from an alloy of beryllium and copper. The evacuated capsule (or usually more capsules) is prevented from collapsing by a strong spring. Small changes in external air pressure cause the cell to expand or contract. This expansion and contraction drives mechanical levers such that the tiny movements of the capsule are amplified and displayed on the face of the aneroid barometer. Many models include a manually set needle which is used to mark the current measurement so a change can be seen. In addition, the mechanism is made deliberately 'stiff' so that tapping the barometer reveals whether the pressure is rising or falling as the pointer moves. They are used for measuring atmospheric pressure.
Barographs may be calibrated for altitude and this type is often used to preserve a record of balloon and glider flights.
A barometer is commonly used for weather prediction, as high air pressure in a region indicates fair weather while low pressure indicates that storms are more likely. When used in combination with wind observations, reasonably accurate short term forecasts can be made. Simultaneous barometric readings from across a network of weather stations allow maps of air pressure to be produced, which were the first form of the modern weather map when created in the 19th century. Isobars, lines of equal pressure, when drawn on such a map, gives a contour map showing areas of high and low pressure. Localized high atmospheric pressure acts as a barrier to approaching weather systems, diverting their course. Low atmospheric pressure, on the other hand, represents the path of least resistance for a weather system, making it more likely that low pressure will be associated with increased storm activities. If the barometer is falling then deteriorating weather or some form of precipitation will fall, however if the barometer is rising then there will be nice weather or no precipitation.