Barometric altimetry relies on atmospheric pressure dropping at a steady rate with altitude, starting from a measured ground-level pressure. This, in turn, relies on atmospheric density dropping at a constant, steady rate with altitude, which it does not always do:
- For instance, if the air close to the ground is much more humid (and, thus, less dense) than the air higher up, then the atmospheric density will drop at a slower-than-standard rate with altitude as the increasing rarefaction of the air is partially compensated by its decreasing humidity, causing the atmospheric pressure to fall off more slowly with altitude than it “should”, and causing an uncorrected altimeter to read falsely low.
- Conversely, in a industrial area, with heavily-polluted low-level air containing high concentrations of dense gasses such as carbon dioxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen dioxide, hydrogen chloride, sulfuric and nitric acids, and heavy hydrocarbons, plus lots of soot and tar particulates which raise the air’s mass significantly while adding very little additional volume, atmospheric density falls off faster with altitude than in a standard atmosphere, as one rises out of the pollution-densified lower layers; this causes the atmospheric pressure to lapse at a higher-than-standard rate, which would cause an uncorrected altimeter to read falsely high.
How do barometric altimeters compensate for nonstandard pressure lapse rates resulting from nonstandard atmospheric density profiles stemming from variations in atmospheric composition with altitude?
This is different from How does an altimeter deal with the non-linear pressure gradient?. That question is about how an altimeter is designed to match the non-linear ISA model; my question is about how one deals with situations where the ambient air isn't the ISA.