How Everything Works
How Everything Works How Everything Works

Question 1270

How come if I stand on the balcony of my third story apartment and drop a hose to the swimming pool down below, I can't suck any water up through the hose into my mouth?
While it may seem that you are somehow attracting the water to your mouth when you suck, you are really just making it possible for air pressure to push the water up toward you. By removing much of the air from within the hose, you are lowering the air pressure in the hose. There is then a pressure imbalance at the bottom end of the hose: the pressure outside the hose is higher than the pressure inside it. It's this pressure imbalance that pushes water into the hose and upward toward your mouth.

But air pressure can't push the water upward forever. As the column of water in the hose rises, its weight increases. Atmospheric pressure can only lift the column of water so high before the upward force on the water is balanced by the water's downward weight. Even if you remove all of the air inside the hose, atmospheric pressure can only support a column of water about 30 feet tall inside the hose. If you're higher than that on your balcony, the water won't reach you no matter how hard you try. The only way to send the water higher is to put a pump at the bottom end of the hose. This pump can push upward harder than atmospheric pressure can and it can support a taller column of water. That's why deep home wells have submersible pumps at their bottoms—they must pump the water upward because it's impossible to suck it upward more than 30 feet from above.


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