Piezometer Tube: Pressure Measurement Using Fluid Statics

Piezometer tubes are instruments used to measure fluid pressure at a specific point within a body of fluid, such as water in a well or reservoir. They consist of a narrow tube inserted into the fluid, allowing the pressure to be read via the height of the fluid column relative to a reference point.


In this article, we will discuss the operating principle of piezometer tubes, their types, materials and components, as well as their applications in engineering.

What Is A Piezometer Tube

A piezometer tube, also known as a piezometer, is a device used to measure pressure within systems such as pipes, tanks, or soil. It consists of a tube attached to the side of the container or area being measured, as shown in the diagram below.

Piezometer Tube

In the case of pipes and tanks, one end of the tube is usually connected to the wall, while the other end remains open to the atmosphere. When measuring pressure in soil, the other end of the piezometer tube is typically connected to a permeable tip to measure water pore pressure in the soil.

The principle of operation for a piezometer tube is based on a simple manometric measurement, where the height of the liquid in the tube correlates to the pressure at the point of connection. This is governed by the equation:

pressure Equation


  • P = gauge pressure [Pa]
  • ρ = density of the liquid inside the tube [Pa]
  • g = acceleration due to gravity [9.81 m/s2]
  • h = height of the liquid column [m]

It is important to note that this equation reflects gauge pressure. To calculate absolute pressure, the atmospheric pressure needs to be added to the equation.

Usage And Limitations

Piezometers are primarily used in engineering to measure the gauge pressure in pipes and vessels. Since they are open to the atmosphere, they are ineffective for measuring vacuum pressures.

Additionally, the range of pressure they can measure is limited, depending on the density of the fluid inside the tube and the height of the tube. This makes them impractical for large pressures, as extremely long tubes would be necessary, which are not feasible for some applications. On the other hand, for very small pressures, the accuracy can be compromised by surface tension effects at the fluid-air interface.

It is important to ensure that the fluid used in the piezometer must be compatible with the materials of the tube to avoid degradation and ensure accurate readings. Understanding the capabilities and restrictions of the piezometer tube is important— when it can be reliably used and when alternative methods may be required.

Types Of Piezometer Tubes

There are various kinds of piezometer tubes used in different geotechnical applications, including open standpipe, closed system, and portable probe types.

Open Standpipe Piezometers

Open standpipe piezometers are the simplest type, consisting of a simple tube inserted into the ground, with its open end allowing water from the surrounding soil or rock to enter. Water rises in the tube to a level that corresponds to the pressure in the pore space.

These are typically used at depths of less than 152 meters, where they can be clustered to provide data on vertical flow conditions. They offer a cost-effective means for shallow applications, but their utility diminishes with depth due to potential for error from water column weight.

Closed System Piezometers

Closed system piezometers are sealed units that prevent water from freely entering the tube, suitable for depths greater than 152 meters. Instead, they use a transducer at the tip to measure pressure directly and often include a data logger. This ensures accurate readings unaffected by the water column and are more cost-effective for deeper installations.

This type includes vibrating-wire and pneumatic piezometers.

Portable Piezometer Probes

Portable piezometer probes are designed for temporary installations and allow for rapid assessment of fluid pressure at various depths. These devices can be inserted into a pre-drilled hole or pushed into softer ground. Versatile and user-friendly, portable probes facilitate on-site decisions and immediate data gathering for studies that do not require long-term monitoring.

Materials and Components

Tube Material

Typically, a rigid, non-collapsible tube material is employed to withstand pressure and temperature without deforming. Glass or acrylic are common choices for their clarity and chemical inertness.

A simple, straight tube design is standard, often marked with graduations for precise measurement. Dimensions vary, but a commonly used size has an internal diameter of about 10 to 25 millimeters.

Connectors And Sealants

To ensure a leak-proof system, high-quality sealants and threaded connectors are used. These need to be compatible with the tube material and the fluid being measured. To assemble, the technician clean-cuts the tube, applies sealant to the connectors, and carefully aligns the tube with the system piping, minimizing leaks and measurement errors.

Applications In Engineering

In civil and environmental engineering, piezometers are essential tools for monitoring the hydraulic properties of soil and rock. They measure pore water pressures, which is essential for assessing soil stability and predicting the movement of subsurface fluids. The application of piezometer tubes commonly includes the following areas:

Slope Stability

Piezometers gauge pore water pressure within soil, which directly affects slope stability. High pore pressures can lead to slope failures, and thus, continuous monitoring is important. Early detection of changes can prompt preventive actions to avoid landslides or slope collapses.


Piezometers provide data for assessing conditions for excavation and foundational work to ensure safe and sound construction. They help in determining dewatering requirements for excavation sites, by assessing hydrostatic levels and understanding groundwater behavior.

Dam Monitoring:

The structural integrity of dams can be monitored with piezometers to detect any seepage or potential points of failure. Regular monitoring helps in maintenance planning and can trigger alarms in case of critical levels of water pressure.


Piezometers are installed to analyze aquifer characteristics. Through the generated data, the estimation of hydraulic conductivity is possible. It also aids in the design and assessment of contaminant migration in groundwater management.

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