Intensity - Mathematical description


In physics, intensity is the power transferred per unit area, where the area is measured on the plane perpendicular to the direction of propagation of the energy. In the SI system, it has units watts per square metre (W/m2). It is used most frequently with waves (e.g. sound or light), in which case the average power transfer over one period of the wave is used. Intensity can be applied to other circumstances where energy is transferred. For example, one could calculate the intensity of the kinetic energy carried by drops of water from a garden sprinkler.

The word “intensity” as used here is not synonymous with “strength”, “amplitude”, “magnitude”, or “level”, as it sometimes is in colloquial speech.

If a point source is radiating energy in all directions (producing a spherical wave), and no energy is absorbed or scattered by the medium, then the intensity decreases in proportion to the distance from the object squared. This is an example of the inverse-square law.

Related formulas


Ithe intensity as a function of position (W/m2)
Pnet power radiated (W)
Asurfarea of closed surface that contains the source (m2)