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Like all fluids, the air exerts a pressure on everything within and around it, although we are not aware of it. Pressure is a force, or weight, exerted on a surface per unit area, and is measured in Pascals (Pa). The pressure exerted by a kilogram mass on a surface equals 9.8 Pa. The pressure exerted by the whole atmosphere on the Earth’s surface is approximately 100,000 Pa. Usually, atmospheric pressure is quoted in millibars (mb). 1 mb is equal to 100 Pa, so standard atmospheric pressure is about 1000mb. In fact, actual values of atmospheric pressure vary from place to place and from hour to hour. At sea level, commonly observed values range between 970 mb and 1040 mb. Because pressure decreases with altitude, pressure observed at various stations must be adjusted to the same level, usually sea level.

Atmospheric pressure is measured by a barometer. A mercury barometer measures the pressure by noting the length of mercury which is supported by the weight of the atmosphere. One centimetre of mercury is equal to 13.33 mb, so normal atmospheric pressure can support a column of mercury about 75 cm (or 30 inches) high. An aneroid barometer is a more compact instrument for measuring pressure. It consists of a box of partially exhausted air which expands and contracts as the pressure falls and rises. The box is connected through a system of levers to a pointer which, in conjunction with a dial, indicates the pressure.

Air blows from regions of high atmosphere pressure ("highs" or anticyclones) to regions of low atmospheric pressure. In a high-pressure system, air pressure is greater than the surrounding areas. This difference in air pressure results in wind, or moving air. In a high-pressure area, air is denser than in areas of lower pressure. The result is that air will move from the high-pressure area to an area of lower density, or lower pressure. Conversely, winds tend to blow into low-pressure areas because air moves from areas of higher pressure into areas of lower pressure. As winds blow into a low, the air can be uplifted. This uplift of air can lead to the development of a depression with clouds and rain.

Air moving from high to low pressure does not however, follow a straight-line path. In fact, the air moving from high to low pressure follows a spiralling route due to the rotation of the Earth beneath the moving air, which causes an apparent deflection of the wind to the right in the Northern Hemisphere, and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere.

Mercury barometer