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Altimeter vs. Barometer: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Published on December 31, 2023
An altimeter measures altitude, typically using atmospheric pressure, while a barometer measures atmospheric pressure to forecast weather.

Key Differences

An altimeter is an instrument used primarily in aviation to measure the altitude of an object above a fixed level, usually the earth's surface. It typically operates by measuring atmospheric pressure, which decreases with altitude. Conversely, a barometer is designed to measure atmospheric pressure at a specific location, which is used for weather forecasting and not for determining altitude.
The altimeter, essential in aircraft, helps pilots determine their height above sea level, crucial for safe navigation. It uses barometric pressure but is calibrated specifically for altitude measurement. In contrast, the barometer, often found in meteorological stations, focuses on detecting pressure changes, indicating impending weather changes, rather than providing altitude data.
Altimeters can be analog or digital, with some modern types using GPS data for more accurate altitude readings. They are crucial for activities like hiking, skydiving, and flying. Barometers, on the other hand, can be mercury or aneroid type, and are integral to meteorology, helping predict weather patterns by observing pressure changes over time.
Calibration is vital for both altimeters and barometers. Altimeters must be calibrated to local pressure settings for accuracy, especially in aviation. Barometers, while also needing calibration, are more focused on tracking pressure trends, aiding in forecasting weather phenomena like storms or high-pressure systems.
Altimeters and barometers, while both dealing with atmospheric pressure, serve distinct purposes. The altimeter's role in measuring altitude is pivotal in navigation and outdoor sports, whereas the barometer's function in weather prediction is essential in meteorology and everyday weather planning.

Comparison Chart

Primary Function

Measures altitude
Measures atmospheric pressure

Use in Aviation

Essential for altitude awareness
Not used for altitude measurement

Weather Forecasting

Not used
Used to predict weather changes


Calibrated for altitude accuracy
Calibrated for pressure accuracy


Analog, digital, GPS-based
Mercury, aneroid

Altimeter and Barometer Definitions


An instrument for determining altitude.
The pilot checked the altimeter to ensure they were cruising at the correct altitude.


An instrument measuring atmospheric pressure.
The barometer reading dropped, indicating a possible storm approaching.


A device that measures altitude by interpreting atmospheric pressure.
As we ascended the mountain, our altimeter indicated an increase in altitude.


A device used in meteorology to forecast weather.
The meteorologist analyzed the barometer data to predict the week's weather.


A gauge, often found in aircraft, for altitude assessment.
The altimeter is crucial for a pilot to maintain a safe flying altitude.


A gauge for detecting changes in atmospheric conditions.
Sailors use a barometer to anticipate weather changes at sea.


A tool used in various outdoor activities to measure height above sea level.
The hiker used an altimeter to track their elevation gain during the climb.


A tool for monitoring atmospheric pressure trends.
The rise in the barometer suggested a period of stable, sunny weather.


An altimeter is a sensor used in navigation, especially in aviation.
Before takeoff, the pilot calibrated the altimeter for accurate altitude readings.


Anything used as a gauge or indicator.


An instrument for determining elevation, especially an aneroid barometer used in aircraft that senses pressure changes accompanying changes in altitude.


An instrument that measures atmospheric pressure


An apparatus for measuring altitude.


An instrument that can predict weather by measuring air pressure.
A sudden fall in the barometer usually signifies bad weather ahead.


An instrument for taking altitudes, as a quadrant, sextant, etc.


An instrument for measuring atmospheric pressure, used especially in weather forecasting.


An instrument that measures the height above ground; used in navigation


Something that registers or responds to fluctuations; an indicator
Opinion polls serve as a barometer of the public mood.


An instrument for measuring atmospheric pressure.


An instrument for determining the weight or pressure of the atmosphere, and hence for judging of the probable changes of weather, or for ascertaining the height of any ascent.


How does a barometer work?

A barometer measures atmospheric pressure, indicating weather changes.

What types of altimeters are there?

Altimeters can be analog, digital, or GPS-based.

Can an altimeter predict weather?

No, an altimeter is designed for measuring altitude, not for weather prediction.

Do pilots rely solely on altimeters for altitude?

Pilots use altimeters along with other instruments for accurate altitude measurement.

What is an altimeter?

An altimeter is a device used to measure altitude, often using atmospheric pressure.

Is GPS altitude always accurate?

GPS altitude can be accurate but may vary based on signal strength and interference.

Is a barometer useful in aviation?

While not for altitude, barometers are essential in aviation for weather assessments.

How does a mercury barometer function?

A mercury barometer uses a column of mercury to measure atmospheric pressure.

Can a barometer be used at sea?

Yes, barometers are crucial for sailors to predict weather changes at sea.

Can a barometer detect storms?

Yes, a falling barometer reading often indicates an approaching storm.

How does weather affect a barometer's reading?

Weather changes, like fronts and storms, significantly impact barometric pressure.

Can altimeters be used underwater?

Altimeters are not designed for underwater use; depth gauges serve that purpose.

What is a barometric trend indicator?

A barometric trend indicator tracks changes in pressure over time, aiding in weather prediction.

Are altimeters used in sports?

Yes, altimeters are used in activities like hiking, skydiving, and paragliding.

What role does a barometer play in forecasting?

Barometers are key in forecasting by tracking pressure trends over time.

What is an aneroid barometer?

An aneroid barometer uses a sealed, airless chamber to measure pressure changes.

How often should an altimeter be calibrated?

Altimeters, especially in aviation, should be calibrated frequently for accuracy.

Can smartphones measure altitude?

Some smartphones have built-in sensors that act as basic altimeters.

How accurate are digital altimeters?

Digital altimeters can be very accurate, especially when calibrated correctly.

Why is atmospheric pressure important in a barometer?

Atmospheric pressure is the key variable barometers measure to forecast weather.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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