When the flow of fluid through a system is suddenly halted at one point, through valve closure or a pump trip, the fluid in the remainder of the system cannot be stopped instantaneously as well. As fluid continues to flow into the area of stoppage (upstream of the valve or pump), the fluid compresses, causing a high pressure situation at that point. Likewise, on the other side of the restriction, the fluid moves away from the stoppage point, creating a low pressure (vacuum) situation at that location. Fluid at the next elbow or closure along the pipeline is still at the original operating pressure, resulting in an unbalanced pressure force acting on the valve seat or the elbow.
The fluid continues to flow, compressing (or decompressing) fluid further away from the point of flow stoppage, thus causing the leading edge of the pressure pulse to move through the line. As the pulse moves past the first elbow, the pressure is now equalized at each end of the pipe run, leading to a balanced (i.e., zero) pressure load on the first pipe leg. However the unbalanced pressure, by passing the elbow, has now shifted to the second leg.
The unbalanced pressure load will continue to rise and fall in sequential legs as the pressure pulse travels back to the source (or forward to the sink). The ramp up time of the profile roughly coincides with the elapsed time from full flow to low flow, such as the closing time of the valve or trip time of the pump. Since the leading edge of the pressure pulse is not expected to change as the pulse travels through the system, the ramp down time is the same. The duration of the load from initiation through the beginning of the down ramp is equal to the time required for the pressure pulse to travel the length of the pipe leg.