How to Calculate Pressure in a Tank

Hydrostatic pressure, or the pressure a fluid exerts at equilibrium at a certain point in the fluid due to gravity, increases at lower depths as the fluid can exert more force from the liquid above that point.

You can calculate the hydrostatic pressure of the liquid in a tank as the force per area for the area of the bottom of the tank as given by pressure = force/area units. In this case, the force would be the weight the liquid exerts on the bottom of the tank due to gravity.

If you want to find the net force when you know acceleration and mass, you can calculate it as F = ma, according to Newton's second law. For gravity, the acceleration is the gravitational acceleration constant, g. This means you can calculate this pressure as P = mg/A for a mass m in kilograms, area A in ft2 or m2, and g as the gravitational constant of acceleration (9.81 m/s2, 32.17405 ft/s2).

This gives you a rough way of determining the forces between particles for the liquid in the tank, but it assumes that the force due to gravity is an accurate measure of the force between particles that causes pressure.

If you want to take more information into account by using the fluid's density, you can calculate hydrostatic pressure of a liquid using the formula P = ρ g h in which P is the liquid's hydrostatic pressure (in N/m2, Pa, lbf/ft2, or psf), ρ ("rho") is the liquid's density (kg/m3 or slugs/ft3), g is gravitational acceleration (9.81 m/s2, 32.17405 ft/s2) and h is the height of the fluid's column or depth where the pressure is measured.

Pressure Formula Fluid

The two formulas look similar because they're the same principle. You can derive P = ρ g h from P = mg/A using the following steps to obtain the pressure formula for fluids:

  1. P = mg/A
  2. P = ρgV /A: replace mass m with density ρ times volume V
  3. P = ρ g h: replace V/A with height h because V = A x h

For gas in a tank, you can determine the pressure by using the ideal gas law PV = nRT for pressure P in atmospheres (atm), volume V in m3, number of moles n, gas constant R 8.314 J/(molK), and temperature T in Kelvin. This formula accounts for the dispersed particles in a gas that depend upon the quantities of pressure, volume, and temperature.

Water Pressure Formula

For water that is 1000 kg/m3 that has an object at 4 km depth, you can calculate this pressure as P = 1000 kg/m3 x 9.8 m/s2 x 4000 m = 39200000 N/m2 as an example use of the water pressure formula.

The formula for hydrostatic pressure can be applied to surfaces and areas. In this case, you can use the direct formula P = FA for pressure, force, and area.

These calculations are central to many areas of research in physics and engineering. In medical research, scientists and physicians can use this water pressure formula determine the hydrostatic pressure of fluids in blood vessels such as blood plasma or the fluids on the walls of blood vessels.

Hydrostatic pressure in blood vessels is the pressure exerted by intravascular fluid (i.e., blood plasma) or extravascular fluid on the wall (i.e., endothelium) of the blood vessel in human organs such as the kidneys and liver when performing diagnoses or studying human physiology.

The hydrostatic forces that drive water throughout the human body are generally measured using the filtration force that the capillary hydrostatic pressure uses against the tissue pressure surrounding the capillaries when pumping blood throughout the body.


About the Author

S. Hussain Ather is a Master's student in Science Communications the University of California, Santa Cruz. After studying physics and philosophy as an undergraduate at Indiana University-Bloomington, he worked as a scientist at the National Institutes of Health for two years. He primarily performs research in and write about neuroscience and philosophy, however, his interests span ethics, policy, and other areas relevant to science.