Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Measurement of Pressure.

Measurement of Pressure


As stated in Chapter 32, pressure is the force exerted by a fluid per unit area. A fluid (i.e. liquid, vapour or gas) has a negligible resistance to a shear force, so that the force it exerts always acts at right angles to its containing surface. The SI unit of pressure is the pascal, Pa, which is unit force per unit area, i.e. 1 Pa = 1 N/m2 . The pascal is a very small unit and a commonly used larger unit is the bar, where 1 bar = 105 Pa

Atmospheric pressure is due to the mass of the air above the earth’s surface. Atmospheric pressure changes continuously. A standard value of atmospheric pressure, called ‘standard atmospheric pressure’, is often used, having a value of 101 325 Pa or 1.01325 bars or 1013.25 millibars. This latter unit, the millibar, is usually used in the measurement of meteorological pres- sures. (Note that when atmospheric pressure varies from 101 325 Pa it is no longer standard.)

Pressure indicating instruments are made in a wide variety of forms because of their many different applications. Apart from the obvious criteria such as pressure range, accuracy and response, many measurements also require special attention to material, sealing and temperature effects. The fluid whose pressure is being measured may be corrosive or may be at high temperatures. Pressure indicating devices used in science and industry include:

(i) barometers

(ii) manometers

(iii) Bourdon pressure gauge

(iv) McLeod and Pirani gauges


A barometer is an instrument for measuring atmospheric pressure. It is affected by seasonal changes of temperature. Barometers are therefore also used for the measurement of altitude and also as one of the aids in weather forecasting. The value of atmospheric pressure will thus vary with climatic conditions, although not usually by more than about 10% of standard atmospheric pressure.

Construction and principle of operation

A simple barometer consists of a glass tube, just under 1 m in length, sealed at one end, filled with mercury and then inverted into a trough containing more mercury. Care must be taken to ensure that no air enters the tube during this latter process. Such a barometer is shown in Figure 33.1(a) and it is seen that the level of the mercury column falls, leaving an empty space, called a vacuum. Atmospheric pressure acts on the surface of the mercury in the trough


as shown and this pressure is equal to the pressure at the base of the column of mercury in the inverted tube, i.e. the pressure of the atmosphere is supporting the column of mercury. If the atmospheric pressure falls the barometer height h decreases. Similarly, if the atmospheric pressure rises then h increases. Thus atmospheric pressure can be measured in terms of the height of the mercury column. It may be shown that for mercury the height h is 760 mm at standard atmospheric pressure, i.e. a vertical column of mercury 760 mm high exerts a pressure equal to the standard value of atmospheric pressure.

There are thus several ways in which atmospheric pressure can be expressed:


Another arrangement of a typical barometer is shown in Figure 33.1(b) where a U-tube is used instead of an inverted tube and trough, the principle being similar. If, instead of mercury, water was used as the liquid in a barometer, then the barometric height h at standard atmospheric pressure would be 13.6 times more than for mercury, i.e. about 10.4 m high, which is not very practicable. This is because the relative density of mercury is 13.6

Types of barometer

The Fortin barometer is an example of a mercury barometer that enables barometric heights to be measured to a high degree of accuracy (in the order of one-tenth of a millimetre or less). Its construction is merely a more sophisticated arrangement of the inverted tube and trough shown in Figure 33.1(a), with the addition of a vernier scale to measure the barometric height with great accuracy. A disadvantage of this type of barometer is that it is not portable.

A Fortin barometer is shown in Figure 33.2. Mercury is contained in a leather bag at the base of the mercury reservoir, and height, H, of the mercury in the reservoir can be adjusted using the screw at the base of the barometer to depress or release the leather bag. To measure the atmospheric pressure the screw is adjusted until the pointer at H is just touching the surface of the mercury and the height of the mercury column is then read using the main and vernier scales. The measurement of atmospheric pressure using a Fortin barometer is achieved much more accurately than by using a simple barometer.



A portable type often used is the aneroid barometer. Such a barometer consists basically of a circular, hollow, sealed vessel, S, and usually made from thin flexible metal. The air pressure in the vessel is reduced to nearly zero before sealing, so that a change in atmospheric pressure will cause the shape of the vessel to expand or contract. These small changes can be magnified by means of a lever and be made to move a pointer over a calibrated scale. Figure 33.3 shows a typical arrangement of an aneroid barometer. The scale is usually circular and calibrated in millimetres of mercury. These instruments require frequent calibration.

Absolute and Gauge Pressure

A barometer measures the true or absolute pressure of the atmosphere. The term absolute pressure means the pressure above that of an absolute vacuum (which is zero pressure). In Figure 33.4 a pressure scale is shown with the line AB representing absolute zero pressure (i.e. a vacuum) and line CD representing atmospheric pressure. With most practical pressure-measuring instruments the part of the instrument that is subjected to the pressure being measured is also subjected to atmospheric pressure. Thus practical instruments actually determine the difference between the pressure being measured and atmospheric pressure. The pressure that the instrument is measuring is then termed the gauge pressure. In Figure 33.4, the line EF represents an absolute pressure that has a value greater than atmospheric pressure, i.e. the ‘gauge’ pressure is positive.


absolute pressure = gauge pressure + atmospheric pressure

Hence a gauge pressure of, say, 60 kPa recorded on an indicating instrument when the atmospheric pressure is 101 kPa is equivalent to an absolute pressure of 60 kPa C 101 kPa, or 161 kPa.


Pressure-measuring indicating instruments are referred to generally as pressure gauges (which acts as a reminder that they measure ‘gauge’ pressure).

It is possible, of course, for the pressure indicated on a pressure gauge to be below atmospheric pressure, i.e. the gauge pressure is negative. Such a gauge pressure is often referred to as a vacuum, even though it does not necessarily represent a complete vacuum at absolute zero pressure. The line GH in Figure 30.4 shows such a pressure. An indicating instrument used for measuring such pressures is called a vacuum gauge.

A vacuum gauge indication of, say, 0.4 bar means that the pressure is 0.4 bar less than atmospheric pressure. If atmospheric pressure is 1 bar, then the absolute pressure is 1– 0.4 or 0.6 bar.

The Manometer

A manometer is a device for measuring or comparing fluid pressures, and is the simplest method of indicating such pressures.

U-tube manometer

A U-tube manometer consists of a glass tube bent into a U shape and containing a liquid such as mercury. A U-tube manometer is shown in Figure 33.5(a). If limb A is connected to a container of gas whose pressure is above atmospheric, then the pressure of the gas will cause the levels of mercury to move as shown in Figure 33.5(b), such that the difference in height is h1 . The measuring scale can be calibrated to give the gauge pressure of the gas as h1 mm of mercury.

If limb A is connected to a container of gas whose pressure is below atmospheric then the levels of mercury will move as shown in Figure 33.5(c), such that their pressure difference is h2 mm of mercury.

It is also possible merely to compare two pressures, say, PA and PB , using a U-tube manometer. Figure 33.5(d) shows such an arrangement with


(PB - PA) equivalent to h mm of mercury. One application of this differential pressure-measuring device is in determining the velocity of fluid flow in pipes (see Chapter 38).

For the measurement of lower pressures, water or paraffin may be used instead of mercury in the U-tube to give larger values of h and thus greater sensitivity.

Inclined manometers

For the measurement of very low pressures, greater sensitivity is achieved by using an inclined manometer, a typical arrangement of which is shown in Figure 33.6. With the inclined manometer the liquid used is water and the scale attached to the inclined tube is calibrated in terms of the vertical height h. Thus when a vessel containing gas under pressure is connected to the reservoir, movement of the liquid levels of the manometer occurs. Since small-bore tubing is used the movement of the liquid in the reservoir is very small compared with the movement in the inclined tube and is thus neglected. Hence the scale on the manometer is usually used in the range 0.2 mbar to 2 mbar.


The length of tube used naturally limits the pressure of a gas that a manometer is capable of measuring. Most manometer tubes are less than 2 m in length and this restricts measurement to a maximum pressure of about 2.5 bar (or 250 kPa) when mercury is used.

The Bourdon Pressure Gauge

Pressures many times greater than atmospheric can be measured by the Bourdon pressure gauge, which is the most extensively used of all pressure- indicating instruments. It is a robust instrument. Its main component is a piece of metal tube (called the Bourdon tube), usually made of phosphor bronze or alloy steel, of oval or elliptical cross-section, sealed at one end and bent into an arc. In some forms the tube is bent into a spiral for greater sensitivity. A typical arrangement is shown in Figure 33.7(a). One end, E, of the Bourdon tube is fixed and the fluid whose pressure is to be measured is connected to this end. The pressure acts at right angles to the metal tube wall as shown in the cross-section of the tube in Figure 33.7(b). Because of its elliptical shape it is clear that the sum of the pressure components, i.e. the total force acting on the sides A and C, exceeds the sum of the pressure components acting on ends B and D. The result is that sides A and C tend to move outwards and B and D inwards tending to form a circular cross-section. As the pressure in the tube is increased the tube tends to uncurl, or if the pressure is reduced the tube curls up further. The movement of the free end of the tube is, for practical purposes, proportional to the pressure applied to the tube, this pressure, of course, being the gauge pressure (i.e. the difference between atmospheric pressure acting on the outside of the tube and the applied pressure acting on the inside of the tube). By using a link, a pivot and a toothed segment as shown in Figure 33.7(a), the movement can be converted into the rotation of a pointer over a graduated calibrated scale.

The Bourdon tube pressure gauge is capable of measuring high pressures up to 104 bar (i.e. 7600 m of mercury) with the addition of special safety features. A pressure gauge must be calibrated, and this is done either


by a manometer, for low pressures, or by a piece of equipment called a ‘dead weight tester’. This tester consists of a piston operating in an oil-filled cylinder of known bore, and carrying accurately known weights as shown in Figure 33.8. The gauge under test is attached to the tester and a screwed piston or ram applies the required pressure until the weights are just lifted. While the gauge is being read, the weights are turned to reduce friction effects.

Vacuum Gauges

Vacuum gauges are instruments for giving a visual indication, by means of a pointer, of the amount by which the pressure of a fluid applied to the gauge


McLeod gauge

The McLeod gauge is normally regarded as a standard and is used to calibrate other forms of vacuum gauges. The basic principle of this gauge is that it takes a known volume of gas at a pressure so low that it cannot be measured, and then compresses the gas in a known ratio until the pressure becomes large enough to be measured by an ordinary manometer. This device is used to measure low pressures, often in the range 10Ł6 to 1.0 mm of mercury. A disadvantage of the McLeod gauge is that it does not give a continuous reading of pressure and is not suitable for registering rapid variations in pressure.

Pirani gauge

The Pirani gauge measures the resistance and thus the temperature of a wire through which current is flowing. The thermal conductivity decreases with the pressure in the range 10Ł1 to 10Ł4 mm of mercury so that the increase in resistance can be used to measure pressure in this region. The Pirani gauge is calibrated by comparison with a McLeod gauge.