# Triple point

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In physics and chemistry, the triple point of a substance is the temperature and pressure at which three phases (gas, liquid, and solid) of that substance may coexist in thermodynamic equilibrium.

For example, the triple point temperature of mercury is at −38.8344 °C, at a pressure of 0.2 mPa.

The triple point of water is used to define the kelvin, the SI base unit of thermodynamic temperature. The number given for the temperature of the triple point of water is an exact definition rather than a measured quantity.

## Triple point of water

File:Phase-diag.svg
A typical phase diagram. The dotted green line gives the anomalous behaviour of water

The single combination of pressure and temperature at which pure water, pure ice, and pure water vapour can coexist in a stable equilibrium occurs at exactly 273.16 kelvins (0.01 °C) and a pressure of 611.73 pascals (ca. 6.1173 millibars, 0.0060373057 atm). At that point, it is possible to change all of the substance to ice, water, or vapor by making infinitesimally small changes in pressure and temperature. Strictly speaking, the surfaces separating the different phases should also be perfectly flat, to avoid the effects of surface tensions.

Water has an unusual and complex phase diagram, although this does not affect general comments about the triple point. At high temperatures, increasing pressure results first in liquid and then solid water. (Above around ${\displaystyle 10^{9}}$ Pa a crystalline form of ice forms that is denser than water.) At lower temperatures under compression, the liquid state ceases to appear, and water passes directly from gas to solid.

At constant pressures above the triple point, heating ice causes it to pass from solid to liquid to gas, or steam, also known as water vapor. At pressures below the triple point, such as those that occur in outer space, where the pressure is near zero, liquid water cannot exist. In a process known as sublimation, ice skips the liquid stage and becomes steam when heated.

## Triple Point Cells

Triple point cells are useful in the calibration of thermometers. For exacting work, triple point cells are typically filled with a highly pure chemical substance such as hydrogen, argon, mercury, or water (depending on the desired temperature). The purity of these substances can be such that only one part in a million is a contaminant; what is called “six-nines" because it is 99.9999 % pure. When it is a water-based cell, a special isotopic composition called VSMOW water is used because it is very pure and produces temperatures that are more comparable from lab to lab. Triple point cells are so effective at achieving highly precise, reproducible temperatures, an international calibration standard for thermometers called ITS–90 relies upon triple point cells of hydrogen, neon, oxygen, argon, mercury, and water for delineating six of its defined temperature points.

## Establishing "sea level" on Mars

The zero-elevation or "sea level" of Mars is defined as the height at which the atmospheric pressure corresponds to the triple point of water.