What Does a Hydrologist Do

To become a Hydrologist you must have exemplary analytical skills. To discover if this career is for you, take one of our quizzes.

Employment of hydrologists is projected to grow 7 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Population growth and environmental concerns are expected to increase demand for hydrologists. Hydrologists working for local government were paid $69,000, while those in state government made an average of $63,450.

Hydrologist Salary

  • Average Annual Salary: $75,360
  • Expected Lifetime Earnings: $2,945,480

Hydrologist – Education

Those interested in this field, usually must have a master’s degree in a field related to the natural sciences, and in most states they are required to hold a state license as well. Though mostly a master’s degree is required, are there also entry-level jobs where a bachelor’s degree is adequate. Hydrologists enter the workforce at the bachelor’s level, usually enjoyed an education not specifically in hydrological field, but in a related subject, for example engineering. You may very well take a career quiz to see if this profession may be right for you.

Positions in advanced research or with university faculty typically require a Ph.D. There are hardly any universities that have hydrology undergraduate degree programs, most offer concentrations in hydrology only in their engineering, geosciences, or earth science degree programs, and students who would like to become hydrologist should already at an early stage take extensive coursework in statistics, math, physics, and computer and life science.

To have a sound education in environmental law, economics, or some other subject that relates government policies will definitely help to become a hydrologist. Students experienced in data analysis, computer modeling, or digital mapping definitely will be better prepared to find a good position in this professional field.

Hydrologist – The Job

A hydrologist studies how all forms of water are moving on, across, and through the crust of the Earth. Hydrologists research and study how snow, hail, rain, or any other form of precipitation has impacted, or is or will be impacting, groundwater levels or river flows. They study in what way and to what extent groundwater and/or surface water is evaporating back into the Earth’s atmosphere or how it eventually gets back into our oceans.

Hydrologists typically will be researching and analyzing how all forms of water are influencing surrounding environments, and how environmental changes have influenced, or will be influencing water movements and the quantity and quality of water. They are frequently asked to use their highly specific knowledge and expertise to resolve various problems in relation to water availability and quality.

Hydrologists usually will be studying bodies of water to measure properties such as stream flow and volume, they can be found collecting soil and/or water samples for researching and testing things like pollution levels or pH, and they will be analyzing various data regarding the environmental impact erosion, drought, pollution, or any other problem. They need to come up with different methods to deal with the negative impacts of pollution, erosion, or sedimentation on the environment.

These professionals are using computer models to be able to predict the impact of pollution or future water problems or supplies, and to forecast the effects of floods or and other important events. They will research and evaluate the effects and impact of water-related projects, such as irrigation systems, hydroelectric power plants, or wastewater treatment plants. They need to prepare and produce plausible reports or presentations of all the things they study and their findings are often used by official bodies.

What do they use?

To be able to collect all sorts of data, are hydrologists, besides computer models, often using remote-control sensing equipment that is installed by them or by a technician that they supervise. Technicians are also used to maintain this highly sophisticated equipment, and hydrologists uses high-tech computer software and programs, often developed by themselves, to be able to analyze and understand all collected data. They often will work with GIS (geographic information systems) and GPS (global positioning system) to be able to carry out their tasks.

Frequently, hydrologists are working closely together with other scientists, engineers, or officials to analyze and manage a specific area’s water supply. They often can be found working, for example, with local or regional policymakers for the development of water conservation programs, or with biologists to study and monitor an area’s wildlife to be able to provide a solution for their specific water requirements.

The majority of hydrologists have specialized in a particular water source or in a specific aspect of water management or of the water cycle. Some have specialized in the water evaporation cycle from streams or lakes, while others concentrate on pollution of for example ground water.

Where do they work?

Hydrologists may be working in offices or in the field, where they may need to wade through streams or into lakes to be able to collect various samples to inspect or read specific monitoring gear. In their offices, hydrologists will spend a lot of their time analyzing and researching all sorts of data, and modelling their readings and findings, using computers and highly sophisticated software programs.

Hydrologists are required to write accurate reports that will detail, for example, the status of ground or surface water in a certain region. Many positions in this field require a lot of travelling, and positions in the private hydrology sector often involve international travel as well.

Job outlook and wages

In 2013, there were some 7,500 professional hydrologists in America, and almost 30 percent were employed by the federal government. Around 38 percent were working in the field of scientific management, technical consulting, and engineering services, while some 25 percent were working for local and state governments. The majority of hydrologists are full time employed, but their daily shifts may vary in length at times that they have to do their activities in the field.

The employment options of hydrologists are expected to increase by some ten percent over the coming decade, and this is in line with overall developments. There will be a modest increase of jobs for hydrologists because of human activities in fields as construction, mining, and hydraulic fracturing. Environmental issues (think of climate change, sea level rise, and huge concerns over flooding and drought) will influence the demand for these professionals. The average annual salary for hydrologists was around $75,360 in 2014.


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