AskDefine | Define barometer

Dictionary Definition

barometer n : an instrument that measures atmospheric pressure

User Contributed Dictionary

see Barometer




  1. An instrument for measuring atmospheric pressure
  2. Anything used as a gauge or indicator.
    1916. Michigan Law Review, Vol. 14, No. 8 (Jun., 1916), pp. 661-665
    "An election is not necessarily an accurate barometer of public opinion. There are other ways in which it makes itself felt, through the press, the forum, discussion, and through every other type of communication."


an instrument for measuring atmospheric pressure
  • French: baromètre
  • German: Barometer
  • Hungarian: barométer, légnyomásmérő
  • Italian: barometro
  • Lithuanian: barometras
  • Polish: barometr
  • Russian: барометр
  • Spanish: barómetro
anything used as a gauge or indicator
  • Hungarian: barométer




Extensive Definition

A barometer is an instrument used to measure atmospheric pressure. It can measure the pressure exerted by the atmosphere by using water, air, or mercury. Pressure tendency can forecast short term changes in the weather. Numerous measurements of air pressure are used within surface weather analysis to help find surface troughs, high pressure systems, and frontal boundaries.


The first barometer is thought to have been built unintentionally by Gasparo Berti, sometime between 1640 and 1643. Evangelista Torricelli is generally credited with inventing the barometer.


Water-based barometers

This concept of "decreasing atmospheric pressure predicts stormy weather" was invented by Lucien Vidie and is the basis for a basic weather prediction device called a weather glass or thunder glass. It can also be called a "storm glass" or a "Goethe barometer" (the writer Goethe popularized it in Germany). It consists of a glass container with a sealed body, half filled with water. A narrow spout connects to the body below the water level and rises above the water level, where it is open to the atmosphere. When the air pressure is lower than it was at the time the body was sealed, the water level in the spout will rise above the water level in the body; when the air pressure is higher, the water level in the spout will drop below the water level in the body. A variation of this type of barometer can be easily made at home.

Mercury barometers

A standard mercury barometer has a glass tube of about 30 inches (about 76 cm) in height, closed at one end, with an open mercury-filled reservoir at the base. Mercury in the tube adjusts until the weight of the mercury column balances the atmospheric force exerted on the reservoir. High atmospheric pressure places more force on the reservoir, forcing mercury higher in the column. Low pressure allows the mercury to drop to a lower level in the column by lowering the force placed on the reservoir. Since higher temperature at the instrument will reduce the density of the mercury the scale for reading the height of the mercury is adjusted to compensate for this effect.
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.
On June 5, 2007, a European Union directive was enacted to restrict the sale of mercury, thus effectively ending the production of new mercury barometers in Europe.

Aneroid barometers

seealso Barograph 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.


A barograph, which records a graph of some atmospheric pressure, uses an aneroid barometer mechanism to move a needle on a smoked foil or to move a pen upon paper, both of which are attached to a drum moved by clockwork.
Barographs may be calibrated for altitude and this type is often used to preserve a record of balloon and glider flights.


seealso Surface weather analysis seealso Weather forecasting 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.



The density of mercury will change with temperature, so a reading must be adjusted for the temperature of the instrument. For this purpose a mercury thermometer is usually mounted on the instrument. Temperature compensation of an aneroid barometer is accomplished by including a bi-metal element in the mechanical linkages. Aneroid barometers sold for domestic use seldom go to the trouble.


As the air pressure will be decreased at altitudes above sea level (and increased below sea level) the actual reading of the instrument will be dependent upon its location. This pressure is then converted to an equivalent sea-level pressure for purposes of reporting and for adjusting aircraft altimeters (as aircraft may fly between regions of varying normalized atmospheric pressure owing to the presence of weather systems). Aneroid barometers have a mechanical adjustment for altitude that allows the equivalent sea level pressure to be read directly and without further adjustment if the instrument is not moved to a different altitude.


  • : C. J. Ulrich : "Barometric instrument"
  • : H. J. Frank : Barometric altimeter"
  • : D. C. W. T. Sharp : "Aneroid barometer"
  • : H. A. Klumb : "Motion amplifying mechanism for pressure responsive instrument movement"
  • : F. Lissau : "Fluid displacement pressure gauges"
  • : O. S. Sormunen : "Pressure measuring instrument"
  • : H. Dostmann : "Barometer"
  • : T. Fijimoto : "Weather forecasting device"


Further reading

  • Middleton, W.E. Knowles. (1964). The history of the barometer. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press. New edition (2002), ISBN 0801871549.
barometer in Bosnian: Barometar
barometer in Bulgarian: Барометър
barometer in Catalan: Baròmetre
barometer in Czech: Barometr
barometer in Danish: Barometer
barometer in German: Barometer
barometer in Modern Greek (1453-): Βαρόμετρο
barometer in Spanish: Barómetro
barometer in French: Baromètre
barometer in Korean: 기압계
barometer in Croatian: Barometar
barometer in Indonesian: Barometer
barometer in Icelandic: Loftvog
barometer in Italian: Barometro
barometer in Hebrew: ברומטר
barometer in Lithuanian: Barometras
barometer in Dutch: Barometer
barometer in Japanese: 気圧計
barometer in Norwegian: Barometer
barometer in Norwegian Nynorsk: Barometer
barometer in Polish: Barometr
barometer in Portuguese: Barómetro
barometer in Russian: Барометр
barometer in Albanian: Barometri
barometer in Simple English: Barometer
barometer in Slovak: Barometer (fyzika)
barometer in Slovenian: Barometer
barometer in Serbian: Барометар
barometer in Finnish: Ilmapuntari
barometer in Swedish: Barometer
barometer in Telugu: భారమితి
barometer in Thai: บารอมิเตอร์
barometer in Turkish: Barometre
barometer in Ukrainian: Барометр
barometer in Vietnamese: Áp kế
barometer in Chinese: 气压表

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

aerological instrument, aneroid barometer, aneroidograph, barograph, barometrograph, canon, check, criterion, degree, feeler, gauge, glass, graduated scale, hurricane-hunter aircraft, hygrometer, measure, model, norm, parameter, pattern, pilot balloon, probe, quantity, radiosonde, random sample, reading, readout, recording barometer, rule, sample, scale, sound, sounder, standard, straw vote, test, touchstone, trial balloon, type, vacuometer, value, weather balloon, weather instrument, weather satellite, weather vane, weathercock, weatherglass, yardstick
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