Hydrologists study how water moves across and through the Earth’s crust.
What they do
Hydrologists study how rain, snow, and other forms of precipitation impact river flows or groundwater levels, and how surface water and groundwater evaporate back into the atmosphere or eventually reach the oceans. Hydrologists analyze how water influences the surrounding environment and how changes to the environment influence the quality and quantity of water. They use their expertise to solve problems concerning water quality and availability.
Hydrologists typically do the following:
- Measure the properties of bodies of water, such as volume and stream flow
- Collect water and soil samples to test for certain properties, such as the pH or pollution levels
- Analyze data on the environmental impacts of pollution, erosion, drought, and other problems
- Research ways to minimize the negative impacts of erosion, sedimentation, or pollution on the environment
- Use computer models to forecast future water supplies, the spread of pollution, floods, and other events
- Evaluate the feasibility of water-related projects, such as hydroelectric power plants, irrigation systems, and wastewater treatment facilities
- Prepare written reports and presentations of their findings
Hydrologists may use remote sensing equipment to collect data. They, or technicians whom they supervise, usually install and maintain this equipment. Hydrologists also use sophisticated computer programs to analyze the data collected. Computer models are often developed by hydrologists to help them understand complex datasets.
Hydrologists work closely with engineers, scientists, and public officials to study and manage the water supply. For example, they work with policymakers to develop water conservation plans and with biologists to monitor wildlife in order to allow for their water needs.
Most hydrologists specialize in a particular water source or a certain aspect of the water cycle, such as the evaporation of water from lakes and streams. The following are examples of types of hydrologists:
Groundwater hydrologists study the water below the Earth’s surface. Some groundwater hydrologists focus on water supply and decide the best locations for wells and the amount of water available for pumping. Other groundwater hydrologists focus on the cleanup of groundwater contaminated by spilled chemicals at a factory, an airport, or a gas station. These hydrologists often give advice about the best places to build waste disposal sites to ensure that groundwater is not contaminated.
Surface water hydrologists study water from aboveground sources such as streams, lakes, and snowpacks. They may predict future water levels by tracking usage and precipitation data to help reservoir managers decide when to release or store water. They also produce flood forecasts and help develop flood management plans.
Hydrologists work in offices and in the field. In offices, hydrologists spend much their time using computers to analyze data and model their findings. In the field, hydrologists may have to wade into lakes and streams to collect samples or to read and inspect monitoring equipment. Hydrologists also need to write reports detailing the status of surface water and groundwater in specific regions. Many jobs require significant travel. Jobs in the private sector may require international travel.
How to become a Hydrologist
Hydrologists need at least a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions; however, some workers begin their careers with a master’s degree.
Hydrologists need at least a bachelor’s degree, and some begin their careers with a master’s degree. Applicants for advanced research and university faculty positions typically need a Ph.D.
Few universities offer undergraduate degrees in hydrology; instead, most universities offer hydrology concentrations in their geosciences, engineering, or earth science programs. Students interested in becoming hydrologists need to complete coursework in math, statistics, and physical, computer, and life sciences. Hydrologists may find it helpful to have a background in economics, environmental law, and other government policy related topics. Knowledge of these areas may help hydrologists communicate with and understand the goals of policymakers and other government workers.
The median annual wage for hydrologists was $81,270 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $51,220, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $127,400.
Employment of hydrologists is projected to grow 5 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. Demand for the services of hydrologists will stem from increases in human activities such as mining, construction, and hydraulic fracturing. Environmental concerns, especially global climate change and the possibility of sea-level rise in addition to local concerns such as flooding and drought, are likely to increase demand for hydrologists in the future.
Similar Job Titles
Environmental Consultant, Groundwater Consultant, Groundwater Programs Director, Hydrogeologist, Hydrologist, Physical Scientist, Research Hydrologist, Scientist, Source Water Protection Specialist, Water Resources Program Director
Geodetic Surveyor, Agricultural Engineer, Environmental Engineer, Soil and Water Conservationist, Environmental Scientist and Specialist (including Health)
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- Alliance of Crop, Soil, and Environmental Science Societies
- American Association for the Advancement of Science
- American Association of Geographers
- American Geophysical Union
- American Institute of Hydrology
- American Institute of Professional Geologists
- American Society of Civil Engineers
- American Water Resources Association
- International Association of Hydrogeologists
- National Association of Environmental Professionals
Magazines and Publications
More than seventy percent of Earth’s surface is covered by water… which supplies a lot of work material for hydrologists— the scientists who study how water moves across and through the Earth’s crust. They solve problems to improve water quality and increase the availability of water. The core of a hydrologist’s job involves measuring the properties of bodies of water, collecting and testing water samples, and analyzing the impact of pollution, erosion, and drought. They use sophisticated computer programs and sensing equipment to forecast future water levels, and may supervise technicians who operate the equipment. Hydrologists also evaluate the feasibility and impact of projects such as hydroelectric dams or irrigation systems, then report their findings and recommendations. Most hydrologists specialize; for example, groundwater hydrologists study water below the earth’s surface and plan cleanup of contaminated groundwater from chemical spills, or advise on locating wells safely. Hydrologists generally spend time working both in an office and in the field. In the field, hydrologists may collect samples and inspect equipment while knee-deep in lakes and streams. Many jobs require significant travel. Most hydrologists work full time, but the length of daily shifts may vary when in the field. Hydrologists need at least a bachelor’s degree, and some positions require a master’s degree. Candidates for advanced research and university faculty positions typically need a Ph.D.
Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org