Inclinometer: A funny word for such an important tool

Inclinometer: A funny word for such an important tool

By David Woodfill / ADOT Communications
May 11, 2023
Two ADOT geotechs use an inclinometer on a hillside to measure the area's stability.

There are a lot of funny sounding tools and instruments that help ADOT maintain the state's highways.

You've heard of Distance Measurement Instruments and even something called the "pokey picker upper," but what in the world is an inclinometer? It sounds like something Wile E. Coyote would purchase from the Acme Corporation. 

It turns out that the term is pretty darn self-descriptive if you read it this way: "incline-o-meter". 

That's right, it's a meter that measures inclines.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let's talk about what it does. 

As funny as the name may sound, inclinometers are important tools in highway design and maintenance. Also known as tilt meters or slope indicators, these nifty little measuring devices are critical for safety as they help engineers prevent landslides that can bury a road or wash it away completely. 

"When we cut into a land feature or a slope, it will unbalance the (underlying) forces," said Tad Niemyjski, an engineer overseeing ADOT's Geotechnical Design Team. "If we see an acceleration over time of a slope's movement, then that's when we really have to start stepping in and develop some engineering measures that can slow the movement down."

Those countermeasures can include building a buttress at the base of or reinforcing the soil in the failure area. The trick is finding the vertical extent of earthen failure and that is when we deploy the use of inclinometers. 

"We will build a soil and or rock buttress - essentially an earthen dam at the base," he said.

Other measures include installing infrastructure - essentially a perforated well casing - in the ground to drain and evacuate excess water accumulation. 

Inclinometers are used frequently in many areas of the state, including State Route 87, also known as the Beeline Highway, north of Sunflower between Fountain Hills and Payson.

"At that location in 2006, they had a large part of the roadway slip out and drop and that closed the highway down for some time," Niemyski said.

Who'd have thought such a funny word would be so critical to our roadway  infrastructure? 

Now that you know what an inclinometer is, all you need to do is practice saying it correctly.

Say it with me now: "inkləˈnämədər". See that’s not so hard!


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