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A siphon (also spelled syphon) is a continuous tube that allows liquid to drain from a reservoir through an intermediate point that is higher than the reservoir, the up-slope flow being driven only by hydrostatic pressure without any need for pumping. It is necessary that the final end of the tube be lower than the liquid surface in the reservoir.
Additional recommended knowledge
It is probable that Ctesibius was the discoverer of the principle of the siphon. His student, Hero of Alexandria, wrote extensively about siphons in the treatise, Pneumatica. Even earlier Egyptian reliefs from 1500 BC depict siphons used to extract liquids from large storage jars..
The siphon was first used as a weapon by the Byzantine Navy, and the most common method of deployment was to emit Greek fire, a formula of burning oil, through a large bronze tube onto enemy ships. Usually the mixture would be stored in heated, pressurized barrels and projected through the tube by some sort of pump while the operators were sheltered behind large iron shields. It is not clear whether these were actual siphons or merely pumps that used air pressure to project the Greek fire. "Some apparatus called a 'siphon' (σιφων) was used". "The siphons were, apparently, flame-projectors, either hand-pumps or reservoirs worked by mechanical force-pumps".
Among some physicists there is some dispute as to what causes the siphon to lift liquid from the upper reservoir to the crest of the siphon. They argue that theoretically, internal molecular cohesion is sufficient to pull the liquid up the intake leg of the siphon to the crest. Furthermore, some (notably Encyclopedia Britannica) argue that theoretically, "a siphon will work in a vacuum". In practice, atmospheric pressure is required, to maintain the cohesion of the liquid in the siphon. Liquids in vacuum are not in equilibrium and typically boil.
Once started, a siphon requires no additional energy to keep the liquid flowing up and out of the reservoir. The siphon works because the ultimate drain point is lower than the reservoir and the flow of liquid out the drain point creates a partial vacuum in the tube such that liquid is drawn up out of the reservoir.
The maximum height of the intermediate point (the crest) is limited by atmospheric pressure and the density of the liquid. At the high point of the siphon, gravity tends to draw the liquid down in both directions, creating a partial vacuum. Atmospheric pressure on the top surface of the higher reservoir is transmitted through the liquid in the reservoir and up the siphon tube and prevents a vacuum from forming. When the pressure exerted by the weight of the height of the column of liquid equals that of atmospheric pressure, a partial vacuum will form at the high point and the siphon effect is ended. For water at standard pressure, the maximum height is approximately 10 m (33 feet); for mercury it is 76 cm (30 inches).
An analogy to understand siphons is to imagine a long, frictionless train extending from a plain, up a hill and then down the hill into a valley below the plain. So long as the valley is below the plain, the part of the train on the valley side of the hill will be longer than the part on the plain side of the hill, so the portion of the train sliding into the valley can pull the rest of the train up the hill and into the valley. What is not obvious is what holds the train together when the train is a liquid in a tube. In this analogy, atmospheric pressure holds the train together. Once the force of gravity on the couplings between the cars of the train going up the hill exceeds that of atmospheric pressure, the coupling breaks and the train falls apart. The train analogy is demonstrated in a "siphon-chain model"  where a long chain on a pulley flows between two beakers.
A plain tube can be used as a siphon. An external pump has to be applied to start the liquid flowing and prime the siphon. This can be a human mouth and lungs. This is sometimes done with any leak-free hose to siphon gasoline from a motor vehicle's gasoline tank to an external tank. (Siphoning gasoline often results in the accidental swallowing of gasoline, which is quite poisonous.) If the tube is flooded with liquid before part of the tube is raised over the intermediate high point and care is taken to keep the tube flooded while it is being raised, no pump is required. Devices sold as siphons come with a siphon pump to start the siphon process. When applying a siphon to any application it is important that the piping be as closely sized to the requirement as possible. Using piping of too great a diameter and then throttling the flow using valves or constrictive piping appears to increase the effect of previously cited concerns over gases or vapor collecting in the crest which serve to break the vacuum. Once the vacuum is reduced the siphon effect is lost.
Reducing the size of pipe used closer to requirements appears to reduce this effect and creates a more functional siphon that does not require constant re-priming and restarting. In this respect, where the requirement is to match a flow into a container with a flow out of said container (to maintain a constant level in a pond fed by a stream, for example) it would be preferable to utilize two or three smaller separate parallel pipes that can be started as required rather than attempting to use a single large pipe and attempting to throttle it.
Floodings:  Self-constructed siphons, made of pipes or tubes, can be used to evacuate water from cellars after floodings. Between the flooded cellar and a deeper place outside a connection is built, using a tube or some pipes. They are filled with water from the through an intake valve (at the highest end of the construction). When the ends are opened, the water flows through the pipe into the sewer or the river.
Large siphons may be used in municipal waterworks and industry. Their size requires control via valves at the intake, outlet and crest of the siphon. The siphon may be primed by closing the intake and outlets and filling the siphon at the crest. If intakes and outlets are submerged, a vacuum pump may be applied at the crest to prime the siphon. Alternatively the siphon may be primed by a pump at either the intake or outlet.
Gas in the liquid is a concern in large siphons. The gas tends to accumulate at the crest and if enough accumulates to break the flow of liquid, the siphon stops working. The siphon itself will exacerbate the problem because as the liquid is raised through the siphon, the pressure drops, causing dissolved gases within the liquid to come out of solution. Higher temperature accelerates the release of gas from liquids so maintaining a constant, low temperature helps. The longer the liquid is in the siphon, the more gas is released, so a shorter siphon overall helps. Local high points will trap gas so the intake and outlet legs should have continuous slopes without intermediate high points. The flow of the liquid moves bubbles thus the intake leg can have a shallow slope as the flow will push the gas bubbles to the crest. Conversely, the outlet leg needs to have a steep slope to allow the bubbles to move against the liquid flow; though other designs call for a shallow slope in the outlet leg as well to allow the bubbles to be carried out of the siphon. At the crest the gas can be trapped in a chamber above the crest. The chamber needs to be occasionally primed again with liquid to remove the gas.
Sample building code regulations regarding back siphonage
From Ontario's building code: 
The term self-siphon is used in a number of ways. Liquids that are composed of long polymers can "self-siphon" and these liquids do not depend on atmospheric pressure. Self-siphoning polymer liquids work the same as the siphon-chain model where the lower part of the chain pulls the rest of the chain up and over the crest. This phenomenon is also called a tubeless siphon.
"Self-siphon" is also often used in sales literature by siphon manufacturers to describe portable siphons that contain a pump. With the pump, no external suction (e.g. from a person's mouth/lungs) is required to start the siphon and thus the product is inaccurately described as a "self-siphon".
If the upper reservoir is such that the liquid there can rise above the height of the siphon crest, the rising liquid in the reservoir can "self-prime" the siphon and the whole apparatus be described as a "self-siphon". Once primed, such a siphon will continue to operate until the level of the upper reservoir falls below the intake of the siphon. Such self-priming siphons are useful in some rain gauges and dams.
Siphons in nature
The term "siphon" is used for a number of structures in human and animal anatomy, either because flowing liquids are involved or because the structure is shaped like a siphon, but in which no actual siphon effect is occurring: see Siphon (biology).
Biologists debate whether the siphon mechanism plays a role in blood circulation . It is theorized that veins form a continuous loop with arteries such that blood flowing down veins help siphon blood up the arteries, especially in giraffes and snakes. Some have concluded that the siphon mechanism aids blood circulation in giraffes . Many others dispute this and experiments show no siphon effects in human circulation. Some cite negative pressure in the brain as supporting the role of the siphon effect in the brain.
Explanation using Bernoulli's equation
Bernoulli's equation may be applied to a siphon to derive the flow rate and maximum height of the siphon.
Apply Bernoulli's equation to the surface of the upper reservoir. The surface is technically falling as the upper reservoir is being drained. However, for this example we will assume the reservoir to be infinite and the velocity of the surface may be set to zero. Furthermore, the pressure at the surface is atmospheric pressure. Thus:
Apply Bernoulli's equation to point A at the start of the siphon tube in the upper reservoir where P = PA, v = vA and y = −d
Apply Bernoulli's equation to point B at the intermediate high point of the siphon tube where P = PB, v = vB and y = hB
Apply Bernoulli's equation to point C where the siphon empties. Where v = vC and y = −hC. Furthermore, the pressure at the exit point is atmospheric pressure. Thus:
As the siphon is a single system, the constant in all four equations are the same. Setting equations 1 and 4 equal to each other gives:
Solving for vC:
The velocity of the siphon is thus driven solely by the height difference between the surface of the upper reservoir and the drain point. The height of the intermediate high point, hB, does not affect the velocity of the siphon. However, as the siphon is a single system, vB = vC and the intermediate high point does limit the maximum velocity. The drain point cannot be lowered indefinitely to increase the velocity. Equation 3 will limit the velocity to a positive pressure at the intermediate high point to prevent cavitation. The maximum velocity may be calculated by combining equations 1 and 3:
Setting PB = 0 and solving for vmax:
The depth, −d, of the initial entry point of the siphon in the upper reservoir, does not affect the velocity of the siphon. No limit to the depth of the siphon start point is implied by Equation 2 as pressure PA increases with depth d. Both these facts imply the operator of the siphon may bottom skim or top skim the upper reservoir without impacting the siphon's performance.
Note that this equation for the velocity is the same as that of any object falling height hC. Note also that this equation assumes PC is atmospheric pressure. If the end of the siphon is below the surface, the height to the end of the siphon cannot be used; rather the height difference between the reservoirs should be used.
Setting equations 1 and 3 equal to each other gives:
Maximum height of the intermediate high point occurs when it is so high that the pressure at the intermediate high point is zero. Setting PB = 0:
Solving for hB:
This means that the height of the intermediate high point is limited by velocity of the siphon. Faster siphons result in lower heights. Height is maximized when the siphon is very slow and vB = 0:
This is the maximum height that a siphon will work. It is simply when the weight of the column of liquid to the intermediate high point equates to atmospheric pressure. Substituting values for water will give 10 metres for water and 0.76 metres for mercury.
|This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Siphon". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.|