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Prepared By:
Edmund Tumusiime
3.1 Action of fluid pressure on a surface
When pressure ‘p’ acts on a solid boundary or across any plane in the
fluid, the force exerted on each small element of area A is pA , and
since the fluid is at rest, this force will act at right angles to the
boundary or plane at the point under consideration.

In the body of the fluid, the pressure may vary from point to point, and
the forces on each element of area will also vary. If the fluid pressure acts
on or across a plane surface, all the forces on the small elements swill be
parallel and can be represented by a single force, known as the ‘Resultant
force’, acting at right angles to the plane through a point called the ‘centre
of pressure’
p 2A2 p 2A2
p nAn

Forces on a curved surface

Fig 3.1
Forces on a plane surface

Resultant force = Sum of forces on all elements of area.

R  p1A1  p 2A2  .........................  p nAn =  pA

For a curved surface, the elementary forces will all act perpendicular to
the surface at each point and will therefore not be parallel. The resultant
of the forces can be found by resolving or by polygon of forces but will be
less than  pA
3.2 Resultant force and centre of pressure on a surface immersed
in a fluid
The position of the immersed surface can be either horizontal, vertical or
Horizontal surface
Free water surface (FWS)

(Fig 3.2) shows a horizontal surface

immersed in water. Let

x = depth of surface in meters

 = specific mass of water Area = A

Since the pressure intensity at every

point on the surface will be the same Fig. 3.2 Pressure on immersed
(being at same depth), then horizontal surface

Total force o f the liquid

on the horizontal surface R = (pressure intensity) x (Area of surface)

 
R  g x A = gA x

Thus, R  gA x (Newton)………………………………………(3.1)

A rectangular surface 3m by 2m is placed horizontally at a depth of 4m
below the free surface of oil of specific gravity 0.8. Find the force exerted
by the surface on oil

Vertically drowned surface

In this case, depth is not constant and hence the pressure intensity
along the surface of contact between the liquid and the solid surface.

We thus assume a small vertical strip of thickness ‘dx’ and width ‘b’ at a
depth ‘x’ from the FWS, for which it can safely be assumed that pressure
intensity remains constant.
Integrating along the whole length of the surface then gives the total
force on the surface.
Total force
on strip = (Pressure) x (Area of strip)
x = gx b  dx 

Total force on surface R =  gbxdx
= g  bdx  x

b  bdx  x = 1st moment of area about the FWS

Fig. 3.3 Force on vertical surface = Ax

Thus, R  gA x ………………………………………………………….(3.2)

A rectangular tank of size 5m x 3m has a partition wall parallel to 3m
side. On one side of the partition wall is filled on oil of specific gravity 0.8
up to the height 1.5m and on the other side is liquid of specific gravity
0.9 up to the height of 3m. Calculate the total resultant force on the
partition wall.

Inclined Surface
If the surface is inclined at angle ‘  ’ to the FWS, the procedure for
finding the resultant force is the same like for a vertically drowned
surface with the pressure intensity resolved normal to the surface.



b dx


Fig3.4. Force on inclined surface

Taking a small horizontal strip of thickness ‘dx’ at a distance ‘x’ from
point C, the point of intersection of surface ‘AB’ with the free water
surface, the pressure intensity at this small strip normal to the surface is
given by
p  g  x sin 
Force on the strip = p x (Area of strip)

= g  x sin  bdx 

Total force on the whole surface R  g  bdx  x sin 

= g sin   bdx  x

Now  b  dx  x = 1st moment of area of the surface about point C

sin 

 Ax 
Thus, R  g   sin 
 = gA x ……………………………………(3.3)
 sin  

A rectangular plate of size 30cm by 15cm is immersed in water such that
it makes an angle of 300C with the free water surface. The 15cm side is
parallel to the water surface and is 1m below it. Find the total force on
the plate.

3.3 Centre of pressure

Knowing that the pressure intensity of a liquid increases with depth, the
pressure acting on a vertically immersed surface will be greater over the
lower potion of the surface. It therefore follows that the resultant force
will act at some point towards the lower edge of the surface. This point at
which the resultant force acts is known as ‘Centre of pressure’. The centre of
pressure will always be below the centre of gravity of the immersed
Consider a water wall having an opening as shown (Fig 3.5). The flow of
water through the opening is prevented by a gate AB which is suspended
by a cord at point C.
The water pressure will tend to swing the
A gate AB about the point C. If force ‘F’ is to
be applied to maintain the gate in
H position, it would be equal in magnitude
G and opposite in direction to the water
pressure acting on the gate.
There will only be one point of application
B of the force to keep the gate perfectly
closed. This point is known as ‘Centre of
Fig 3.5 Centre of pressure

If ‘F’ were applied below this point, the gate would open outwards at the
top and vice versa.

The position of centre of pressure can be found by taking moments of all

the forces acting on the gate about point C; where

Moment of force F Sum of all the moments of water

about point C = pressures on the gate AB about

Centre of pressure on a vertically immersed area.

Consider a vertically immersed surface (Fig 3.6) with C as a point of

application of the resultant force; i.e. centre of pressure.

H = depth of C.P below FWS
b x x = depth of centre of gravity
H I 0 = 2nd moment of area about FWS
G Considering an elementary strip of
C width ‘b’ and thickness ‘dx’ at a
depth ‘x’ below the FWS,
Fig 3.6. Centre of pressure on a
vertically immersed surface Force on strip F = gx  bdx
Moment of force F on strip about FWS M s  gx  bdx  x = gx 2 b  dx

Total moment of force for the whole surface M T  g  bdx  x 2

Now  bdx  x = 2nd moment of area of the surface about the FWS
= I0

Therefore, Total moment M T  gI 0 ………………………………………(3.4)

Also, Moment of resultant force R about the FWS = RH ……………….(3.5)

For equilibrium to be assured, Equation (3.4) and (3.5) must be equal

Thus, RH  gI 0
gI 0 gI 0 I
OR H    0 ………………………………(3.6)
R gA x A x

2nd Moment of area

i.e. Depth of centre of pressure =
1st Moment of area

But from parallel axes theorem, I 0  I G  A x 2

Where I G , is the second moment of area of the surface about a horizontal

axis through the centre of gravity,

Equation (3.6) thus becomes,

I0  A x

 x …………….(3.7)
Ax Ax

Note: It can clearly be noted from the above equation that the centre of
pressure is always below the centre of gravity by an amount G
Table 3.1: Geometrical properties of some common shapes

Surface Area C.G position IG

d d bd 3
G x I0 
x bd 2 12

x d
1 2d bd 3
G bd x I0 
2 3 36

d  2 d  4
d x IG  d
G 4 2 64

 2 2  4
d x d IG  d
G x 8 3 457

An isosceles triangular plate 3m wide by 4m deep has its base at the
water surface and its top 4m below the centre of the base. Determine the
force the water exerts on the plate and hence locate the centre of

Centre of pressure on an inclined immersed surface

The location of centre of pressure for an area inclined to the water
surface can be found by taking moments about ‘C’, the point of
intersection of the inclined area and the water surface.

x H

b dx

Fig 3.7. Centre of pressure on an
inclined surface

Considering an elementary horizontal strip of width ‘b’ and thickness ‘dx’

at a distance ‘x’ from point C, then

Pressure intensity (Normal to the surface) p  gx sin 

Force on element = p x (Area of strip)

= gx sin  b  dx 

Moment of this force about C = gx sin  b  dx   x

Total moment of all such forces about C = g sin   bdx  x 2

Now  bdx  x = 2nd moment of area of the surface about the FWS
= I0

Therefore, Total moment M T  gI 0 sin  …………………………………(3.8)

Also, Moment of resultant force R about the FWS = ……………....(3.9)
sin 

For equilibrium to be assured, Equation (3.8) and (3.9) must be equal

Thus,  gI 0 sin 
sin 
gI 0 sin 2  gI 0 sin 2  I 0 sin 2 
OR H   …………………………(3.10)
R gA x Ax

But from parallel axes theorem, I 0  I G 

Ax 

sin 2 

Equation (3.10) thus becomes,

H  IG 
 2
A x  sin 2 

 sin 2
  Ax
 
I G sin 2 
H  x ………………………………………………….(3.11)

Therefore in case of inclined surfaces, the centre of pressure is always

I sin 2 
below the centre of gravity by G

A gate, made of rectangular plate of size 2m width and 3m deep is used
to close an opening made in the upstream face of a dam, which is
inclined at 450 to the horizontal. The 2m side of the plate is parallel to
and is 4m from the water surface. The top part of the plate is hinged,
while its bottom edge is connected to a chain. If the plate weighs 4905 N
then calculate the normal force required to open the gate with the help of
the chain.

3.4 Pressure Diagrams

The resultant force and centre of pressure can be found graphically for a
wall and other surfaces of constant vertical height for which it is
convenient to calculate the horizontal force per unit width.
Consider a vertical wall of a tank (Fig 3.8) containing a liquid. The
pressure diagram is plotted with pressure on the horizontal axis and
depth on the vertical axis.

p  gy
Density  R

Fig 3.8 Pressure diagram for a

vertical wall

At the free surface ‘A’, the (gauge) pressure is zero. At depth ‘y’, p  gy .
Since the relationship between ‘p’ and ‘y’ is linear, it can be represented
by the triangle ABC whose area gives to scale the resultant force ‘R’ on
unit width of the immersed surface perpendicular to the plane of the
diagram (in Newton per metre)

1 1
Area of pressure diagram = AB  BC = H  gH
2 2

Resultant force, gH 2 (per unit width)…………………..(3.12)

Note: ‘R’ acts through the centroid P of the pressure diagram, which is at
a depth H from ‘A’

If the plane surface is inclined and submerged below the surface, the
pressure diagram is drawn perpendicular to the immersed surface (Fig
3.9) and will be a straight line extending from p  0 at the free surface to
p  gH at depth ‘H’.
A vertical wall 5m long divides a storage tank. On one side of the wall is
filled with oil of specific gravity 0.9 to a depth of 2m, while on the other
side is gasoline of specific gravity 0.8 up to the height of 4m. Calculate
the total force on the wall and also find the position of its centre of

3.5 Force on curved surfaces due to hydrostatic pressure

When a curved surface is immersed in a liquid, the total pressure due to
liquid on the surface and the position of C.P can not be directly obtained
by the methods explained in the previous articles. The method adopted
for the computation of the resultant force is by drawing the force polygon
for the forces causing equilibrium.


Density  As the immersed surface does not
H extend to the FWS, the resultant
force R is represented by the
P quardrateral shown instead of the
whole triangle, and acts through
the centroid ‘P’ of the quardrateral.
p  gH R

Fig 3.9 Pressure diagram for a

inclined submerged surface

Consider a curved surface AB (Fig 3.10). The resultant force and its point
of application can be obtained by considering the volume ABC of water
which is in equilibrium under the action of three forces, PH, PV, and R.

PV = Total vertical force on AB

PH = total horizontal force on rectangular area CB, a projection of surface
A p v  w = Weight of water of volume
ABC acting through G, the
centre of gravity
F = Total reaction to water pressure
pH pH of Surface AB
a  b
3 R pv
c d
Fig 3.10 Hydrostatic force on curved surface
pv  w

As these three forces maintain the volume ABC of water in equilibrium,

they will meet at a common point ‘a’ the point of intersection of ‘PH’ and
‘PV’. from the geometry of the figure,

2 2
The resultant force R  p H  pV

p 
Acting at angle   tan 1  V 
 pH 

Note: If the water pressure acts below the curved surface AB, the weight
will be equal to the weight of the imaginary volume of water above the
surface up to the FWS