Gases you should know: Nitrogen

Colourless, odourless, tasteless and mostly inert (doesn’t react with any other substances). So what’s the big deal and why do we need to understand the properties of Nitrogen? Why indeed…

Nitrogen makes up about about 3% total body weight and in the composition of normal air is the most abundant element at 78.084%, which poses the question, why don’t we metabolise nitrogen during respiration, rather than oxygen?

It also reacts readily with many substances and the basis of most Nitrogen chemistry is through the splitting of the extremely strong bond which binds 2 Nitrogen atoms. (This is how it is found naturally in the atmosphere as a molecule, see below) and is found in many natural compounds such as proteins. However its at its most reactive when it is a single atom, rather than the N2 molecule which is mostly inert.

Nitrogen molecule N2

When diving, Nitrogen is especially important to consider for a several of key reasons. Firstly it can cause Nitrogen narcosis, which is the effect nitrogen has at pressure on the nervous system, causes many symptoms which are hazardous to a diver including euphoria, tunnel vision and a delayed response to stimuli.

Secondly is Decompression sickness (DCS). Henry’s law dictates that N2 will dissolve into your tissues during a dive. Because of this absorption, it is vital that we follow dive tables and computers so that when the Nitrogen in tissues is released we do so in a safe and controlled manner that helps us avoid DCS.

Well there you have it. Short, sharp and makes me salivate at the thought of all that organic chemistry (which I have spared you from!) Non the less it’s essential information which every diver should have some grasp on!

Brace yourself for more exciting gas posts. They’re bangers.



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