Hydrologist Job Description
Hydrologists study the distribution, movement, and quality of underground and surface water. Hydrologists are often involved in the design of irrigation systems, waste treatment plants, hydroelectric power plants, and flood warning systems.
Some hydrologists work very closely with government officials to help them develop plans for water conservation. They may also work with scientists who study marine animals, and engineers who are designing a dam or reservoir.
Because hydrology is such a large field, most people choose to specialize in researching a particular water source. Here are some of the most common subfields:
Surface water hydrologists study water from lakes, streams, rivers, oceans, and other above ground water sources. Their research has many uses in the real world. For example, they help forecast floods and droughts, and inform reservoir operators on how they should manage their water supply.
Groundwater hydrologists study water that's found below the earth's surface. They are normally interested in the sustainability, reliability, quality, and quantity of the groundwater. Their research may be used to help people decide where they should pump water from. It also helps people decide where they should put waste disposal facilities, so the groundwater isn't negatively impacted.
Hydrometeorologists study the relationship between water on the earth's surface and the water in the atmosphere. Remember the water cycle? Water that evaporates on the surface goes into the atmosphere. By studying the evaporation rates of different bodies of water, these hydrologists can help predict droughts.
Work Environment and Schedule
The majority of hydrologists are employed by the government. Local, state, and federal agencies all provide employment opportunities for hydrologists, but don't limit your job search to just those areas. Scientific consulting agencies and engineering firms also employ many hydrologists.
Hydrologists normally split their time between their office, laboratories, and the field. In the field, hydrologists collect water samples and inspect equipment. They can conduct some initial analysis on site using remote sensing equipment, but more in depth research requires equipment that's found in a laboratory. In the office, they use sophisticated computer software to perform further analysis and modeling.
Most hydrologists work full time, but overtime may be required when doing field work. Field work sometimes requires walking long distances, and can be physically strenuous. Depending on where the water being studied is located, regular travel may be required.
How to Become a Hydrologist
A minimum of a bachelor's degree is required for most entry level hydrologist positions. A strong background in math, computer science, statistics, and life science is necessary for a career in this field.
Many colleges and universities offer hydrology programs. Depending on the school and the type of hydrology you want to study, concentrations in may be offered by the environmental science, geoscience, or engineering department. Many employers prefer to hire candidates with work experience, and you should get an internship while an undergraduate if possible. To learn more about getting an internship, stop by your college's career center.
If you're planning on spending your entire career as a hydrologist, you should seriously consider getting a graduate degree. Without one, your opportunities for advancement may be severely limited, and you may find yourself unable to move beyond an entry level position.
Most hydrologists have a master's degree, but a Ph.D. is required for advanced research positions, as well as faculty positions at a college or university.
If you're still in high school and you're considering a career in this field, you can start to prepare yourself by taking advanced mathematics and computer science courses. Hydrologists use data analysis and computer modeling to do their jobs, and having experience in these areas can greatly improve your chances of employment.
There are currently 7,600 hydrologists in the United States, with 360 new hydrologist job openings created each year.
Hydrologist jobs are not expected to see much growth beyond their current levels in the next decade.
Salaries by State
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Hydrologist salaries can vary depending on your experience, the location, company, industry, and benefits provided. Nationwide, most hydrologists make between $59,500 - $94,300 per year, or $28.62 - $45.34 per hour.