Science Questions

How can I determine direction of water flow through a pipe?

Sun, 28th Feb 2010

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show The Science of Water Security


Ron asked:

Is there any way I can determine the flow direction of cold water through 15mm copper pipe without tracing back to the pump?






Ben -  It might be a bit more complicated than just tracing the pipe back to the pump itself, but you could borrow a technique that they use in medicine that relies on the Doppler Effect.

Now you're probably familiar with the Doppler Effect.  Itís what makes the sound of an ambulance or a police siren change as itís coming towards you or away from you. 

When the source of the sound is coming towards you, the soundwaves get squashed together and as a result has a higher frequency, it sounds higher. When it goes away, they're stretched - so lower frequency, lower pitch.

Now, you can also use this method in medicine with ultrasound.  In fact, they use the ultrasound Doppler to observe blood flow in a foetus.  This is what we could steal to follow the water in your pipe.

So if you put an ultrasound signal in the pipe and then measure the sound, then if the recorded sound is of a higher pitch, then you can infer that itís been compressed by the water, and so that should mean the water is moving towards you, I think.  So, you could use it, but I think probably, tracing it through to the pipes is considerably easier.


Subscribe Free

Related Content


Make a comment

you might be able to check it with a thermometer if the temperature of the water is lower than the ambient where the pipe is.
Just note the temperature of the pipe at two different places and the cooler will be closer to the source of the water.
You must of course ensure there is a flow if the pipe is feeding a tank with a stopcock there may well be no flow.
syhprum, Tue, 2nd Mar 2010

Cut the pipe in two and see which end the water comes out of.
I'm amazed that Neil didn't come up with that idea (having tested it at his neighbour's place first.) Bored chemist, Tue, 2nd Mar 2010

See the whole discussion | Make a comment

Not working please enable javascript
Powered by UKfast
Genetics Society