Hydrostatics: Wikis


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Continuum mechanics
Table of Hydraulics and Hydrostatics, from the 1728 Cyclopaedia

Fluid statics (also called hydrostatics) is the science of fluids at rest, and is a sub-field within fluid mechanics. The term usually refers to the mathematical treatment of the subject. It embraces the study of the conditions under which fluids are at rest in stable equilibrium. The use of fluid to do work is called hydraulics, and the science of fluids in motion is fluid dynamics.


Pressure in fluids at rest

Due to the fundamental nature of fluids, a fluid cannot remain at rest under the presence of a shear stress. However, fluids can exert pressure normal to any contacting surface. If a point in the fluid is thought of as an infinitesimally small cube, then it follows from the principles of equilibrium that the pressure on every side of this unit of fluid must be equal. If this were not the case, the fluid would move in the direction of the resulting force. Thus, the pressure on a fluid at rest is isotropic, i.e. it acts with equal magnitude in all directions. This characteristic allows fluids to transmit force through the length of pipes or tubes, i.e., a force applied to a fluid in a pipe is transmitted, via the fluid, to the other end of the pipe.

This concept was first formulated, in a slightly extended form, by the French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal in 1647 and would later be known as Pascal's law. This law has many important applications in hydraulics.

Hydrostatic pressure

Hydrostatic pressure is the pressure exerted by a fluid at equilibrium due to the force of gravity.[1] The hydrostatic pressure can be determined from a control volume analysis of an infinitesimally small cube of fluid. Since pressure is defined as the force exerted on a test area (p = F/A, with p: pressure, F: force normal to area A, A: area), and the only force acting on any such small cube of fluid is the weight of the fluid column above it, hydrostatic pressure can be calculated according to the following formula:

p(z)=\frac{1}{A}\int_{z_0}^z dz' \iint\limits_A dx' dy'\, \rho (z') g(z') = \int_{z_0}^z dz'\, \rho (z') g(z') ,


For water and other liquids, this integral can be simplified significantly for many practical applications, based on the following two assumptions: Since many liquids can be considered incompressible, a reasonably good estimation can be made from assuming a constant density throughout the liquid. (The same assumption cannot be made within a gaseous environment.) Also, since the height h of the fluid column between z and z0 is often reasonably small compared to the radius of the earth, one can neglect the variation of g. Under these circumstances, the integral boils down to the simple formula:

\ p = \rho g h,

where h is the height z-z0 of the liquid column between the test volume and the zero reference point of the pressure. Note that this reference point should lie at or below the surface of the liquid. Otherwise, one has to split the integral into two (or more) terms with the constant ρliquid and ρ(z')above. For example, the absolute pressure compared to vacuum is :

\ p = \rho g H + p_\mathrm{atm},

where H is the total height of the liquid column above the test area the surface, and patm is the atmospheric pressure, i.e., the pressure calculated from the remaining integral over the air column from the liquid surface to infinity.

Atmospheric pressure

Statistical mechanics shows that, for a gas of constant temperature, T, its pressure, p will vary with height, h, as:

\ p (h)=p (0) e^{-Mgh/kT}


g = the acceleration due to gravity
T = Absolute temperature (i.e. kelvins)
k = Boltzmann constant
M = mass of a single molecule of gas
p = pressure
h = height

If there are multiple types of molecules in the gas, the partial pressure of each type will be given by this equation. Under most conditions, the distribution of each species of gas is independent of the other species.


Any body of arbitrary shape which is immersed, partly or fully, in a fluid will experience the action of a net force in the opposite direction of the local pressure gradient. If this pressure gradient arises from gravity, the net force is in the vertical direction opposite that of the gravitational force. This vertical force is termed buoyancy or buoyant force and is equal in magnitude, but opposite in direction, to the weight of the displaced fluid.

In the case of a ship, for instance, its weight is balanced by a buoyant force from the displaced water, allowing it to float. If more cargo is loaded onto the ship, it would sink more into the water - displacing more water and thus receive a higher buoyant force to balance the increased weight.

Discovery of the principle of buoyancy is attributed to Archimedes.

Liquids-fluids with free surfaces

Liquids can have free surfaces at which they interface with gases, or with a vacuum. In general, the lack of the ability to sustain a shear stress entails that free surfaces rapidly adjust towards an equilibrium. However, on small length scales, there is an important balancing force from surface tension.

Capillary action

When liquids are constrained in vessels whose dimensions are small, compared to the relevant length scales, surface tension effects become important leading to the formation of a meniscus through capillary action. This capillary action has profound consequences for biological systems as it is part of one of the two driving mechanisms of the flow of water in plant xylem, the transpirational pull.


Without surface tension, drops would not be able to form. The dimensions and stability of drops are determined by surface tension.The drop's surface tension is directly proportional to the cohesion property of the fluid.

See also


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

HYDROSTATICS (Gr. i)&op, water, and the root ara-, to cause to stand), the branch of hydromechanics which discusses the equilibrium of fluids (see HYDROMECHANics).

<< Hydrosphere

Hydroxylamine >>

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