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A brief history of decompression theory

Published on: 25th April, 2016 | Dive Safety and Medicine
Photo credit: The History of Diving Museum
Do you know what pressure change the human body can handle?

 In the late 1800’s a French physiologist Paul Bert discovered decompression sickness and also the need for decompression stops and slow ascent speeds during diving.

Further work on DCS was undertaken by John Scott Haldane around the turn of the 20th century.  Haldane is considered to be the father of modern decompression theory.  Haldane published the first diving tables in 1908 in the Journal of Medicine in an article which considered the effects of compressed air at depth.

Haldane concluded that a diver could surface from an indefinitely long 10 meter dive without DCS.  This resulted in his conclusion that the human body could tolerate pressure change with a factor of 2:1.  

Further studies by Robert Workman revised this ratio to 1.58:1.  This was referred to as the tissue pressure ratio.  Workman also discovered that this ratio varied with different parts/tissues of the human body.  This led to the refinement of decompression theory to include “tissue compartments”, representing how different body parts respond during diving.

The development of decompression theory has progressed substantially over the last two centuries.  However, the basic theory described by Bert and subsequently developed by Haldane and Workman (amongst others) provides the basis for modern day decompression theory and associated models.

The original article ‘Gradient Factors’ by Dive Rite is available here.


Susan Shield

TDI Adv. Nitrox & Deco. Procedures. Chartered Professional Engineer