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Encyclopedia > Air density

The density of air, ρ (Greek: rho) (air density), is the mass per volume of Earth's atmosphere, and is a useful value in aeronautics. In the SI system it is measured as the number of kilograms of air in a cubic meter (kg/m3). At sea level and at 20 C dry air has a density of approximately 1.2 kg/m3. varying with pressure and temperature. Air density and air pressure decrease with increasing altitude.


Effects of temperature and pressure

The formula for the density of air is given by:

where ρ is the air density, p is pressure, R is the gas constant, and T is temperature.

The individual gas constant R for dry air is:


  • At standard temperature and pressure (0 C and 101.325 kPa), dry air has a density of ρSTP = 1.293 kg/m3).
  • At standard ambient temperature and pressure (25 C and 100 kPa) dry air has a density of ρSATP = 1.168 kg/m3).

Effect of water vapor

For moist air, the partial pressure of the water vapor must be considered as well. In this case, the density of the air is the sum of the density of the dry air and the density of the water vapor:

The gas constant for water vapor is:

Effects of altitude

To calculate the density of air as a function of altitude, one requires additional parameters. They are listed below, along with their values according to the International Standard Atmosphere, using the universal gas constant instead of the specific one:

  • sea level atmospheric pressure p0 = 101325 Pa (= 101325 (kg/ms2) = 1013.25 mbar or hPa = 101.325 kPa)
  • sea level standard temperature T0 = 288.15 K
  • Earth-surface gravitational acceleration g = 9.80665 m/s2.
  • dry adiabatic lapse rate L = −0.0065 K/m
  • universal gas constant R = 8.31432 J/(molK)
  • molecular weight of dry air M = 0.0289644 kg/mol

Temperature at altitude h metres above sea level is given by the following formula (only valid below the tropopause):

The pressure at altitude h is given by:

Density can then be calculated according to a molar form of the original formula:

Importance of temperature

The below table demonstrates that the properties of air change significantly with temperature.

Table - speed of sound in air c, density of air ρ,
acoustic impedance Z vs. temperature C

Impact of temperature
C c in m/s ρ in kg/m Z in Pas/m
- 10 325.4 1.341 436.5
- 5 328.5 1.316 432.4
0 331.5 1.293 428.3
+ 5 334.5 1.269 424.5
+ 10 337.5 1.247 420.7
+ 15 340.5 1.225 417.0
+ 20 343.4 1.204 413.5
+ 25 346.3 1.184 410.0
+ 30 349.2 1.164 406.6

See also


External links

  Results from FactBites:
Density Altitude Calculator - English (463 words)
Density altitude is defined as the altitude in the International Standard Atmosphere that has the same air density as the air being evaluated.
Air density is affected by the air pressure, temperature and humidity.
The density of the air is reduced by decreased air pressure, increased temperatures and increased moisture.
  More results at FactBites »



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