The solubility of a gas in water depends on following three parameters:
1. Nature of gas
The solubility decreases with increase in temperature. Temperature and pressure follow inverse proportionality. So solubility increases with increase with pressure. A quantitative relation between pressure and solubility of a gas in a solvent was given by W. Henry . This relationship is known as Henry’s law.
Henry’s law can be expressed as follows.
At constant temperature, the solubility of a gas in a liquid is directly proportional to the pressure of the gas.
Solubility ∝ Pressure of the gas
Some of the important applications of Henry’s law are as follows.
[i] Since the solubility of a gas in water increases with pressure, soft drink bottles are sealed under high pressure to accommodate more CO2 in the soft drink making the drink fizzier.
[ii] If deep sea divers [scuba divers] use air for respiration, they develop a medical condition known as bends with involves the blocking of capillaries. This is because air is mainly a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen. According to Henry’s Law, the solubility of gases increases with increase in pressure. When diver breathes air under high pressure in water, nitrogen dissolves in his blood. When the diver comes towards surface, the pressure gradually decreases. This releases the dissolved gases and leads to the formation of bubbles in the blood. This is quite painful and dangerous to life. In order to avoid bends and toxic effects of dissolved nitrogen in blood, the tanks used by sea divers are filled with air diluted with helium [ 11.7% He + 56.2% N2 + 32.1% O2 ].
[iii] The pressure of oxygen in air decreases in going up the mountains. At very high altitudes the partial pressure of oxygen in air is much less than that at the ground level. Therefore, people living at high altitude or climbers have low concentrations of oxygen in the blood and tissues. This leads to weakness and loss in the clarity of thinking. These symptoms create a condition known as anoxia.
[iv] Henry’s law is also related to biology as it explains the supply of inhaled oxygen to tissues. When air is inhaled, it combines with haemoglobin [oxygen carrier of RBCs] of the blood in lungs to form oxyhaemoglobin because in lungs the partial pressure of oxygen is high. Partial pressure of oxygen is low in tissues. Hence, oxygen is released from oxyhaemoglobin and is utilised by the cells to carry out their tasks.
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