Hydrology is a growing field with many career prospects. This article discusses the roles and career outlooks of hydrologists for those considering a course of study in this scientific field.
Water is one of the most vital natural resources on the planet. Without water, there would be no plants, animals, or people. The Earth’s water supply is limited by nature. With growing populations, record consumption, and harmful pollutants affecting the water supply, hydrologists are more important than ever.
A hydrologist is a scientist who studies water and the Earth’s water cycle. These experts find solutions to problems regarding water availability or quality. They collect data in the field, analyze findings, and help develop strategies to manage the planet's limited water supply. Most hydrologists specialize in one type of water source or a specific part of the water cycle. Read below to learn more about the duties, work environments, educational requirements, employment prospects, and salaries for this exciting occupation. Similar careers are also listed for reference and comparison.
Hydrologist Job Description
Hydrologists study how water impacts the environment, as well as how the environment affects the quantity and quality of the Earth’s water supply. They analyze the effects of rain, snow, hail, and other types of precipitation on bodies of water such as rivers and lakes. They also examine how groundwater and surface water either reach the oceans or evaporate into the atmosphere.
There are two main disciplines in the general category – surface water hydrologists and groundwater hydrologists:
Surface water hydrologists deal with water from sources that are above ground, such as ponds, streams, and rivers. They try to predict flood behaviors to help governments and other responsible parties create disaster management plans. They also analyze precipitation data and water usage to guide reservoir managers making decisions about storing and releasing water.
Groundwater hydrologists study the water that is below the surface of the Earth. They often deal with cleanup of groundwater that has been contaminated by chemical spills at industrial sites, such as factories. They also evaluate underground water supplies and help locate the best areas to place pumps. Some groundwater hydrologists advise on the locations of potential waste disposal sites to prevent further groundwater contamination.
The specific duties of a hydrologist can involve any of the following activities:
Hydrologists work in offices, laboratories, and in the field. In the field, they collect samples and check monitoring equipment. They often need to wade into the water to do so. In the lab, they analyze the samples they’ve collected. In the office, they use computers to study the data and model the findings, as well as compile written reports. The federal government employs nearly 30 percent of all hydrologists in the United States. State governments employ 20 percent, engineering firms employ 16 percent, and local governments employ 9 percent. 20 percent of working hydrologists consult for management, scientific, and technical organizations. Many hydrologists also choose to teach in a university or high school setting. A job in hydrology may require extensive travel and even months away from home at a time.
Hydrologist Education Requirements And Skills
A bachelor’s degree is required to begin a career as a hydrologist, though many hydrologists hold master’s degrees. A position as a university faculty member or advanced researcher may require a doctorate. Degrees in hydrology are uncommon. Most interested students choose hydrology as a concentration when pursuing a degree in engineering, earth science, or geosciences.
The coursework for future hydrologists typically includes statistics, math, computer sciences, life sciences, and physical sciences. Many students also take classes in environmental law, economics, and government policies. The material covered in these courses is often useful in communicating with policymakers and designing practical projects.
Key Qualities Of A Hydrologist
There are several key qualities that successful hydrologists share:
Good physical health
Hydrologists may need to access remote areas requiring long hikes while performing fieldwork.
Hydrologists spend large amounts of time analyzing data they have collected and interpreting the results of lab studies.
Critical thinking skills
Hydrologists take the data they have analyzed and develop real-world solutions to water supply problems.
Hydrologists are often members of a team that also includes technicians, engineers, other scientists, and even government officials. They must be able to effectively work with professionals in a number of fields.
Hydrologists are also entrusted with writing reports detailing their research and findings. Often, they must present these findings to government officials or members of the public who do not have scientific or technical expertise. Their presentations must be clear, concise, and comprehensible to a wide range of audiences.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that hydrologist employment demand will rise 10 percent between 2016 and 2026. As of 2016, there were 6,700 scientists working in this field; by 2026, there will likely be 7,400. This rate of increase is faster than the average rate for all other jobs in the country, meaning now may be a good time to consider a career in the hydrology field.
There are many reasons for the increased need for hydrologists. As the world’s population grows, the Earth’s water cycle will undergo changes due to human behavior. Construction, mining, and hydraulic fracturing will all have an effect on the environment. Newly built communities may have difficulty accessing water. Previously uninhabited areas may experience flooding issues as new communities move in. These environmental concerns, as well as global warming and sea rise, will all require the expertise of hydrologists to find effective solutions.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, in May of 2017 the median annual salary for a hydrologist was $79,990. The top 10 percent earned more than $122,870 while the bottom 10 percent earned less than $50,900. On average, hydrologists make $1,200 more per year than other physical scientists. Hydrologists who earn the highest salaries work as consultants for management, technical, and scientific firms. Those who earn the lowest salaries work for state governments. Most positions are full-time jobs. However, hours may differ when work is being performed in the field.
- 10 Similar Careers -
There are many careers in the science field that require similar educational backgrounds and have similar job responsibilities to those of hydrologists. Each career typically requires at least a bachelor’s degree in a scientific discipline:
Meteorologists And Atmospheric Scientists
Atmospheric scientists analyze data regarding climate and weather to understand their impact on the environment and human activity. Median pay is $92,070.
Geoscientists study the Earth’s physical characteristics, including its processes, structure, and composition. They use their data to understand the Earth’s past and present and make predictions about its future. Median pay is $89,850.
Environmental engineers help create solutions to environmental issues. They use biology, soil science, chemistry, and engineering principles to address public health, waste disposal, air and water pollution, and recycling efforts. Median pay is $86,800.
Geological And Mining Engineers
Geological and mining engineers design mining facilities and practices to safely source coal, metals, and other minerals from underground. Median pay is $94,240.
Agricultural engineers address problems affecting the agricultural industry. Areas of expertise may include pollution and environmental issues, the processing and storage of agricultural products, power supplies, machinery, and the use of facilities. Median pay is $74,780.
Climate Change Analysts
Climate change analysts conduct climate research and use the data to predict future changes to the Earth’s climate, ecosystems, and populations. Their work is often used to create public policy. Median pay is $75,360.
Geographers study the Earth’s landscapes and features, as well as the ways in which cultural and political structures affect the land. They, in effect, bridge natural sciences and social sciences. Median pay is $62,914.
Industrial ecologists monitor sources of pollution that affect the environment and public health. They work for both government entities and private firms that need to comply with environmental regulations. Median pay is $75,360.
Civil engineers design, construct, and maintain infrastructure projects including bridges, roads, dams, sewage plants, buildings, tunnels, and water supply systems. Median pay is $84,770.
Foresters And Conservation Scientists
Foresters and conservation scientists supervise and manage the land quality in parks, forests, and other natural resources. They may be responsible for timber harvesting, ecological restoration, and day-to-day activities of protected lands. Median pay is $60,970.
If you have a scientific mind and good communication skills, hydrology may be the right field for you. Demand for hydrologists is expected to increase over the next ten years and the typical salary is more than double the average American salary of $37,690. Many universities with science departments offer concentrations in the field and advanced study can mean even higher salaries and more opportunities for career advancement.