What is a Hydrologist?

Hydrologists study water and the water cycle. They use their expertise to solve problems in the areas of water quality or availability. Hydrologists work in the field and in offices and laboratories.

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What does a Hydrologist do?

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 levels of pollution
  • Apply research findings to help minimize the environmental impacts of pollution, erosion, and other problems
  • Research ways to improve water conservation and preservation
  • Use computer models to forecast future water supplies, the spread of pollution, and other events
  • Evaluate the feasibility of water-related projects, such as hydroelectric power plants, irrigation systems, and waste treatment facilities
  • Prepare written reports and presentations of their findings.

Hydrologists use remote sensing equipment to collect data. They or technicians whom they supervise usually install and maintain this equipment. They also use sophisticated computer programs to analyze and model data. They use sophisticated laboratory equipment to analyze chemical samples collected in the field.

Hydrologists work closely with engineers, scientists, and public officials to study and manage the water supply. For example, they work with policy makers to develop water conservation plans and with biologists to monitor marine wildlife. Most hydrologists specialize in a specific water source or a certain aspect of the water cycle, such as the evaporation of water from lakes and streams.

What does it take to be a Hydrologist?

For most jobs, hydrologists need a master’s degree with a focus in the natural sciences. Hydrologists may need a license in some jurisdictions.

A bachelor’s degree is adequate for some entry-level hydrologist positions. Applicants for advanced research and university faculty positions typically need a Ph.D. Few universities offer degrees in hydrology; instead, most universities offer hydrology concentrations in their geosciences, environmental science, or engineering programs.

Students interested in becoming a hydrologist need extensive coursework in math, statistics, and physical, computer, and life sciences. Students who have experience with computer modeling, data analysis, and digital mapping will be the most prepared to enter the job market. Also, hydrologists use geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing, and global positioning system (GPS) equipment to do their jobs.

What is the workplace of a Hydrologist like?

Hydrologists work in the field and in offices and laboratories. In the field, hydrologists may have to wade into lakes and streams to collect samples or inspect monitoring equipment. In the office, hydrologists spend most of their time using computers to analyze data and model their findings.

How much does a Hydrologist earn?

The median annual wage of hydrologists was $75,690 in May 2010. (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% earned less than $48,280, and the top 10% more than $112,490.

Most hydrologists work full time. However, the length of daily shifts may vary when hydrologists are doing field work.

Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of hydrologists in May 2010 were as follows:

  • Federal government $84,540
  • Management, scientific, and technical consulting services $77,850
  • Architectural, engineering, and related services $77,750
  • Local government, excluding education and hospitals $68,600
  • Large government, excluding education and hospitals $61,830
Learn more about being a Hydrologist

Employment Stats

Bachelor's degree required

Growing by 10.4% over the next 8 years

$79K Average annual salary