What you need to know
Hydrologists study how water moves across and through the Earth’s crust. They use their expertise to solve problems in the areas of water quality or availability.
Hydrologists work in offices and in the field. In offices, hydrologists spend much of 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.
Some of the things hydrologists might do:
- 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
- Analytical skills. Hydrologists need to analyze data collected in the field and examine the results of laboratory tests.
- Communication skills. Hydrologists prepare detailed reports that document their research methods and findings. They may have to present their findings to people who do not have a technical background, such as government officials or the general public.
- Critical-thinking skills. Hydrologists develop and use models to assess the potential risks to the water supply by pollution, floods, droughts, and other threats. They develop water management plans to handle these threats.
- Interpersonal skills. Most hydrologists work as part of a diverse team of engineers, technicians, and other scientists.
- Physical stamina. When they are in the field, hydrologists may need to hike to remote locations while carrying testing and sampling equipment.
The average pay for hydrologists in the United States ranges from $51,220 to $127,400 as of May 2019.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
Employment of hydrologists is projected to grow 7 percent from 2018 to 2028, 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.
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. 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.