Water Potential Calculator

MPa (Ψp)

MPa (Ψo)

Optional Inputs

MPa (Ψg)

MPa (Ψh)

MPa (Ψov)

MPa (Ψm)

Water Potential

Ψ -0.8 MPa

-7.89538 atm | -116.03 psi | -8.00 bar | -800.00 kPa | -8000.00 hPa

Water Potential Calculation Steps

Calculating water potential is done by summing the pressure potential (Ψp), solute (osmotic) potential (Ψo), gravitational potential (Ψg), hydrostatic potential (Ψh), overburden potential (Ψov), and matric potential (Ψm). The general formula for water potential is:

Ψ = Ψp + Ψo + Ψg + Ψh + Ψov + Ψm

In most cases, not all components are required. In plant physiology, this simplified version is most commonly used:

Ψ = Ψp + Ψo

Disclaimer: We've spent hundreds of hours building and testing our calculators and conversion tools. However, we cannot be held liable for any damages or losses (monetary or otherwise) arising out of or in connection with their use. Full disclaimer.

What is Water Potential?

Water potential, in the simplest terms, is a measure of the potential energy of water in a system compared to pure water, when both temperature and pressure are equal. It determines the direction in which water will flow. Water flows from areas of higher water potential (more free or pure water) to areas of lower water potential (less free or impure water). This concept is very important in understanding processes like plant water absorption and the movement of water within cells.

Water potential is usually measured in units of pressure, such as Pascals (Pa). It's a crucial concept for understanding how water moves through ecosystems and within organisms, particularly plants. Understanding water potential helps in fields like agriculture, environmental science, and hydrology.

Water Potential Examples


Imagine a container separated by a semi-permeable membrane, which allows water to pass through but not solutes (like salt or sugar). One side of the container has pure water (high water potential), and the other has saltwater (lower water potential due to the presence of salt).

A semi-permeable membrane separating pure water and a solution with negative water potential. Water moves from the pure water side to the solute side raising its level and diluting the solution.

Water will naturally move from the side with pure water (higher water potential) to the side with saltwater (lower water potential). This movement is driven by the water's tendency to balance the concentration of solutes on both sides of the membrane. The water moves to the area of lower water potential until the water potential is equalized, or some other physical factor e.g. air pressure, stops it.

Water Transport in Trees

Consider a tree and how it transports water from the soil to its leaves. The roots of the tree are in contact with soil water, which has a relatively high water potential because it's usually purer than the water inside the tree's roots.

A tree is shown with its root system along with labels showing how the water potential gradient causes the tree to take water up through the soil, transport it through its trunk, and release it into the air through its leaves

The water inside the tree's roots has a lower water potential due to the presence of minerals and sugars. Because of this difference, water moves from the soil (higher water potential) into the tree's roots (lower water potential) through a process called osmosis.

Once inside the roots, water moves up the tree through the xylem (a type of tissue in plants) to reach the leaves. This movement is supported by a combination of factors, including the loss of water from the leaves through transpiration (creating a lower water potential in the leaves), and the cohesive and adhesive properties of water, which help pull it upwards against gravity.

So, in the tree, water continuously moves towards areas of lower water potential, from the soil to the roots, and then up to the leaves.

Water Potential Components

Water potential is determined by several components, each contributing to the overall potential energy of water in a system. The main components are:

  1. Solute Potential (Osmotic Potential): This refers to the effect of solutes (like salts, sugars, and other dissolved substances) on the water potential. The presence of solutes lowers the water potential, making it more negative. Solute potential is particularly important in cellular processes where the concentration of solutes inside and outside the cell can drive water movement.

  2. Pressure Potential: This component is the physical pressure on water, either positive or negative. In plant cells, positive pressure potential can be generated by the cell wall resisting the entry of water, while negative pressure potential (tension) is often seen in the water in the xylem of plants during transpiration.

  3. Gravitational Potential: This is relevant in the movement of water due to gravity, especially in tall plants and trees. Water potential decreases with height, meaning that water moves upwards against gravity from higher gravitational potential (ground) to lower gravitational potential (top of the tree).

  4. Matric Potential: This component is often relevant in soils, where the water potential is influenced by the adhesion of water molecules to soil particles. It typically reduces the water potential, making it more difficult for plants to extract water from dry soils.

Frequently Asked Questions: Water Potential

  1. Is water potential always negative?

    Not always. Water potential can be negative or positive, depending on the conditions. In many biological situations, like in plant cells, water potential is often negative because of the solute concentration and the negative pressure potential (tension) in the xylem. However, it can be positive, such as in a pressurized system or in a plant cell that is turgid due to water uptake.

  2. How does water potential affect osmosis?

    Osmosis, the movement of water across a semi-permeable membrane, is directly influenced by water potential. Water moves from an area of higher water potential to an area of lower water potential. So, the difference in water potential across a membrane determines the direction and rate of water flow due to osmosis.

  3. When is water potential zero?

    Water potential is zero under standard conditions in pure water at atmospheric pressure. This is considered the reference point for measuring water potential.

  4. What has the lowest water potential?

    In biological systems, areas with high solute concentration and/or under significant negative pressure typically have the lowest water potential. For instance, the water potential is very low in the leaves of a plant during transpiration or in highly saline environments.

  5. When is water potential highest in plants?

    Water potential is generally highest in plants when the soil is moist and the environmental conditions are not causing high rates of transpiration (like at night or in humid conditions). At these times, the roots have a relatively high water potential, facilitating water uptake.

  6. Is water potential energy?

    Yes, water potential is a form of potential energy. It represents the potential energy per unit volume of water and indicates the capacity of water to do work as it moves from one place to another due to differences in potential energy.

  7. What discovered water potential?

    The concept of water potential in plant physiology was developed by the American plant physiologist Walter S. Slack and the British botanist Edgar Sperry in the mid-20th century. They built upon earlier work related to osmotic pressure and plant physiology. Their contributions helped in formulating a more comprehensive understanding of water movement in plants.

  8. What units are water potential measured in?

    Water potential is typically measured in units of pressure. The most common unit is the megapascal (MPa). However, it can also be measured in bars, atmospheres, or pascals. 1 MPa is equivalent to 10 bars, about 10 atmospheres, or 1,000,000 pascals. These units reflect the pressure that is exerted by or on the water in a particular system, which influences the movement of water through processes like osmosis and capillary action.


  1. "Water Potential (Ψ)" - Courtney Ricca: New Jersey Institute of Technology
  2. "Water, Diffusion and Osmosis" - Dr. Stephen G. Saupe: St. John's University; Biology Department