In the laboratory the specific gravity is determined in a pyknometer by actual weighing, and on board ship by the use of an areometer or hydrometer.
Three types of areometer are in use: (I) the ordinary hydrometer of invariable weight with a direct reading scale, a set of from five to ten being necessary to cover the range of specific gravity from 1 000 to 1.031 so as to take account of sea-water of all possible salinities; (2) the " Challenger " type of areometer designed by J.
Buchanan, which has an arbitrary scale and can be varied in weight by placing small metal rings on the stem so as to depress the scale to any desired depth in sea-water of any salinity, the specific gravity being calculated for each reading by dividing the total weight by the immersed volume; (3) the total immersion areometer, which has no scale and the weight of which can be adjusted so that the instrument can be brought so exactly to the specific gravity of the water sample that it remains immersed, neither floating nor sinking; this has the advantage of 'eliminating the effects of surface tension and in Fridtjof Nansen's pattern is capable of great precision.
In all areometer work it is necessary to ascertain the temperature of the water sample under examination with great exactness, as the volume of the areometer as well as the specific gravity of the water varies with temperature.
Charles's balance areometer is similar to Nicholson's hydrometer, except that the lower basin admits of inversion, thus enabling the instrument to be employed for solids lighter than water, the inverted basin serving the same purpose as the pointed screw in Atkins's modification of the instrument.