What is an Inclinometer?

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  • Written By: Lee Johnson
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 04 October 2019
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An inclinometer is a device that is used to measure the degree of an upward or downward slope. Inclinometers are referred to by various names, including clinometers, tilt indicators, gradiometers and declinometers. Inclinometers are useful in various situations, such as determining an aircraft’s angle in relation to the ground, aligning antennae with satellites, and measuring the height of trees.

Old inclinometers relied on water to work out the angle of a surface. The inclinometer would have a flat bottom so it could rest on the ground, and house a container full of water. Markings up the side of the container would be used to measure the angle of a surface, depending on the tilt of the water’s surface. This effect can easily be replicated by tilting a glass of water. The angle of the container changes, but the surface of the water remains parallel to the ground.

A modern inclinometer is dependent upon an electronic sensor to determine its angle in relation to the ground. Some inclinometers have a separate probe and a hand-held device on which the readings are displayed. Many inclinometers come in combination with compasses, and they can be found in a variety of different styles. Generally, a modern inclinometer is used by looking through an eyepiece, and aligning the horizontal line that stretches across the display with the object whose angle is being measured. The readout will then be displayed in degrees.


Inclinometers have many different applications in various occupations. They are vital in aircraft to determine the airplane’s angle in relation to the ground. This is important for landing an airplane, as well as for keeping the plane at a consistent height in the sky. Segways also use an inclinometer in order to keep the operator correctly balanced.

In seismology, an inclinometer is useful to determine the angles of hills and valleys, and to work out whether the ground that makes them up is moving. The difference in the inclinometer readings over time can be used to determine the rate at which the ground is moving. In forestry, inclinometers can be used to calculate the height of trees based upon the angle to the tip and the distance from the tree. Inclinometers are also used in construction to ensure that shelves and door frames are parallel to the ground.


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