How to Become a Hydrologist

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Hydrology is an important discipline that studies water movement, quality, and distribution throughout Earth. Hydrologists are trained professionals that study bodies of water and assess water resources and the hydrologic cycle.


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What does a hydrologist do?

Hydrologists study the physical properties, amount, circulation, and distribution of all types of bodies of water. They assess water systems over time and track changes. They assess the forms and intensity of precipitation and its movement, how it is absorbed into the ground, and its return to the atmosphere and bodies of water. They study the role of water in many ecosystems and test water samples to identify pollutants. They obtain data on the effects of human activity on water systems. Hydrologists perform extensive research to develop water conservation and improvement techniques. They often carry out various laboratory tests and write detailed documents on their results. They use a variety of complex instruments and techniques such as data assimilation, remote sensing technology, and numerical modeling.

What kind of training does a hydrologist need?

Hydrologists typically need at least a master degree in hydrology and doctorate degrees are required for research and teaching positions. A bachelor degree in hydrologic science may be sufficient for some entry-level positions. Prospective hydrologists usually take courses in mathematics, hydrogeology, chemistry, geophysics, soil science, engineering science, aquatic biology, geology, atmospheric science, and conservation. Hydrologists can gain voluntary certification in professional hydrology from the American Institute of Hydrology to remain competitive and advance in the field. Hydrologists must stay up to date on the current advancements in the field and they often complete continuing education throughout their careers.

What are the prospects for a career as a hydrologist?

Employment of hydrologists is projected to grow much faster than average for all professions, increasing 24% from 2006 to 2016 (1). A growing population and the increased need to monitor the quality of the environment and understand human impact will drive job growth.

Job prospects are expected to be favorable, especially for hydrologists with field experience and a solid understanding of waste remediation. Many job openings will occur from the need to replace hydrologists who retire, transfer, or leave the field for other reasons.

How much do hydrologists make?

As of November 2009, hydrologists with less than 1 year experience earn average annual salaries between $34,427 and $49,579. Those with 1 to 4 years experience earn average annual salaries between $39,777 and $57,341 (2).

A career as a hydrologist is a great choice for people interested in studying a variety of water systems. Hydrologists must have a thorough knowledge of water properties and be able to apply them to a variety of tasks. They must have great communication and interpersonal skills and be able to effectively work as part of team with other professionals. Hydrologists involved in field research must have good physical stamina and be able to work in less desirable and sometimes dangerous conditions.

Joshua T Osborne

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