[boi-uhn-see, boo-yuhn-see]
buoyancy, upward force exerted by a fluid on any body immersed in it. Buoyant force can be explained in terms of Archimedes' principle.

In physics, buoyancy (BrE IPA: /ˈbɔɪənsi/) is the upward force on an object produced by the surrounding liquid or gas in which it is fully or partially immersed, due to the pressure difference of the fluid between the top and bottom of the object. The net upward buoyancy force is equal to the magnitude of the weight of fluid displaced by the body. This force enables the object to float or at least to seem lighter. Buoyancy is important for many vehicles such as boats, ships, balloons, and airships, and plays a role in diverse natural phenomena such as sedimentation.

Archimedes' principle

It is named after Archimedes of Syracuse, who first discovered this law. According to Archimedes' Principle, "any body fully or partially submerged in a fluid is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced."

Vitruvius (De architectura IX.9–12) recounts the famous story of Archimedes making this discovery while in the bath (for which see eureka) but the actual record of Archimedes' discoveries appears in his two-volume work, On Floating Bodies. The ancient Chinese child prodigy Cao Chong also applied the principle of buoyancy in order to measure the accurate weight of an elephant, as described in the Sanguo Zhi.

This is true only as long as one can neglect the surface tension (capillarity) acting on the body.

The weight of the displaced fluid is directly proportional to the volume of the displaced fluid (specifically if the surrounding fluid is of uniform density). Thus, among objects with equal masses, the one with greater volume has greater buoyancy.

Suppose a rock's weight is measured as 10 newtons when suspended by a string in a vacuum. Suppose that when the rock is lowered by the string into water, it displaces water of weight 3 newtons. The force it then exerts on the string from which it hangs will be 10 newtons minus the 3 newtons of buoyant force: 10 − 3 = 7 newtons. This same principle even reduces the apparent weight of objects that have sunk completely to the sea floor, such as the sunken battleship USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It is generally easier to lift an object up through the water than it is to finally pull it out of the water.

The density of the immersed object relative to the density of the fluid is easily calculated without measuring any volumes:

frac { mbox{Density of Object}} { mbox {Density of Fluid} } = frac { mbox{Weight} } { mbox{Weight} - mbox{Apparent immersed weight} },

Forces and equilibrium

Pressure increases with height above the surface of a liquid. Any object with a non-zero vertical height will have different pressures on its top and bottom, with the pressure on the bottom being greater. This difference in pressure causes the upward buoyancy force.

The magnitude of buoyant force may be appreciated from the following argument. Consider any object of arbitrary shape and volume V, surrounded by a liquid. . The force the liquid exerts on an object within the liquid is equal to the weight of the liquid with a volume equal to that of the object. This force is applied in a direction opposite to gravitational force that is, of magnitude:

rho V g , , where rho, is the density of the liquid, V, is the volume of the body of liquid , and g, is the gravitational acceleration at the location in question.

Now, if we replace this volume of liquid by a solid body of the exact same shape, the force the liquid exerts on it must be exactly the same as above. In other words the "buoyant force" on a submerged body is directed in the opposite direction to gravity and is equal in magnitude to :

rho V g ,

The net force on the object is thus the sum of the buoyant force and the object's weight

F_mathrm{net} = m g - rho V g ,

If the buoyancy of an (unrestrained and unpowered) object exceeds its weight, it tends to rise. An object whose weight exceeds its buoyancy tends to sink.

Commonly, the object in question is floating in equilbrium and the sum of the forces on the object is zero, therefore;

mgmathrm = rho V g ,

and therefore;

mmathrm = rho V ,

showing that the depth to which a floating object will sink (its "buoyancy") is independent of the variation of the gravitational acceleration at various locations on the surface of the Earth.

(Note: If the liquid in question is seawater, it will not have the same density ( rho ) at every location on the Earth. For this reason, a ship may display a Plimsoll line.)

It is common to define a buoyant mass mb that represents the effective mass of the object with respect to gravity

m_{b} = m_{mathrm{o}} cdot left(1 - frac{rho_{mathrm{f}}}{rho_{mathrm{o}}} right),

where m_{mathrm{o}}, is the true (vacuum) mass of the object, whereas ρo and ρf are the average densities of the object and the surrounding fluid, respectively. Thus, if the two densities are equal, ρo = ρf, the object appears to be weightless. If the fluid density is greater than the average density of the object, the object floats; if less, the object sinks.

Compressive fluids

The atmosphere's density depends upon altitude. As an airship rises in the atmosphere, its buoyancy decreases as the density of the surrounding air decreases. As a submarine expels water from its buoyancy tanks (by pumping them full of air) it rises because its volume is constant (the volume of water it displaces if it is fully submerged) as its weight is decreased.

Compressible objects

As a floating object rises or falls the forces external to it change and, as all objects are compressible to some extent or another, so does the object's volume. Buoyancy depends on volume and so an object's buoyancy reduces if it is compressed and increases if it expands.

If an object at equilibrium has a compressibility less than that of the surrounding fluid, the object's equilibrium is stable and it remains at rest. If, however, its compressibility is greater, its equilibrium is then unstable, and it rises and expands on the slightest upward perturbation, or falls and compresses on the slightest downward perturbation.

Submarines rise and dive by filling large tanks with seawater. To dive, the tanks are opened to allow air to exhaust out the top of the tanks, while the water flows in from the bottom. Once the weight has been balanced so the overall density of the submarine is equal to the water around it, it has neutral buoyancy and will remain at that depth. Normally, precautions are taken to ensure that no air has been left in the tanks. If air were left in the tanks and the submarine were to descend even slightly, the increased pressure of the water would compress the remaining air in the tanks, reducing its volume. Since buoyancy is a function of volume, this would cause a decrease in buoyancy, and the submarine would continue to descend.

The height of a balloon tends to be stable. As a balloon rises it tends to increase in volume with reducing atmospheric pressure, but the balloon's cargo does not expand. The average density of the balloon decreases less, therefore, than that of the surrounding air. The balloon's buoyancy reduces because the weight of the displaced air is reduced. A rising balloon tends to stop rising. Similarly a sinking balloon tends to stop sinking.


If the weight of an object is less than the weight of the fluid the object would displace if it were fully submerged, then the object has an average density less than the fluid and has a buoyancy greater than its weight. If the fluid has a surface, such as water in a lake or the sea, the object will float at a level where it displaces the same weight of fluid as the weight of the object. If the object is immersed in the fluid, such as a submerged submarine or air in a balloon, it will tend to rise. If the object has exactly the same density as the fluid, then its buoyancy equals its weight. It will tend neither to sink nor float. An object with a higher average density than the fluid has less buoyancy than weight and it will sink. A ship floats because although it is made of steel, which is more dense than water, it encloses a volume of air and the resulting shape has an average density less than that of the water.


See also

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