What is a Clinometer?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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Clinometers are measuring devices that may be used in several different professions. Also known as an inclinometer, the essential function of the device is to determine accurate measurements as they relate to sloping, height and distance. The clinometer is often used in the profession of meteorology, as well as in forestry and surveying.

One of the most common applications of the clinometer has to do with measuring angles as they relate to the slope of natural formations or buildings and other human construction projects. The idea is to measure the angle with an eye toward identifying any amount of slope, with respect to the gravity that is involved. The clinometer may be used to measure both inclines and declines, based on the perspective of the individual calculating the measurements.

Along with measuring inclines, the clinometer is also used in the field of forestry. While measuring natural formations found in wooded areas, the inclinometer is also utilized as a means of measuring the height of trees. Using the directed beam that is emitted by the device, it is possible to determine height without having to use conventional means of actually measuring the tree.


The clinometer is also helpful for meteorologists who wish to measure cloud height at night. Once again, by making use of the tight beam of light that is emitted by the device, it is possible to aim the beam at a spot on the clouds and measure how far from the earth’s surface the cloud formation is currently standing. This can help the meteorologist accurately predict a number of different weather conditions.

The clinometer has been around since the early 20th century. Early versions relied heavily on weights as a means of determining slope and distance. Later incarnations of the clinometer made use of curved glass tubes filled with some type of damping liquid and a steel ball to chart angles and slopes. Today, the use of electronic sensors is an important component in the design and function of the modern clinometer.


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Post 3

I'm about to embark on a career which involves surveying roofs for solar panels. How does the machine we've been talking about aid in the surveying of the roof where solar panels are to be fitted?

Post 1

Another form of a clinometer is used in particular when 'setting up' the flight control surfaces of an aircraft.

It is generally known as the 'Watts Variable Clinometer'.

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