How To Become a Hydrologist
The condition of our ecosystems and the continuously-shrinking supply of freshwater resources contribute to the already great need for natural resource managers. One example of a natural resource manager is the hydrologist. If you have a passion for the conservation and protection of water bodies, or the study of precipitation and how it affects its surrounding environment, then this article is for you. Here is a full guide on what a hydrologist is – and how to become one.
- What is Hydrology?
- Key Tasks & Duties
- Work Environments
- Job Outlook & Growth Rate
- Educational Requirements
- Additional Certifications
- Related Degrees
Hydrologist Fast Facts
|Education Requirements||4-Year Bachelor’s Degree|
|Recommended Degree Program||B.S. Earth & Environmental Science|
|Average Salary (2018)||$79,370|
|Hydrologists Employed in U.S. (2018)||7,000|
|Projected Job Openings by 2028||800|
|Projected Growth Rate||7-10% (faster than average)|
|Other Job Titles||Groundwater Consultant, Hydrogeologist|
|Related Careers||Environmental Consulting|
What is Hydrology?
Hydrology is the study of water in terms of movement, quality, and distribution throughout the world and/or in certain ecosystems. This is also a field that is referred to as environmental hydrology. It can be applied to a plethora of contexts, some of the most prominent today being the study of water as a finite resource, a product of ecosystem services, and the patterns and impacts of anthropogenic use of water.
So, what does a hydrologist do?
They study the physical properties, amount, circulation, and distribution of various types of water bodies. A hydrologist is responsible for evaluating the chemical, thermal, and other changes in a body of water over time.
They also study how it interacts with its surrounding environment in terms of intensity of precipitation and how that affects the movement of the water. Similar occupations include atmospheric scientists and environmental engineers. Identifying pollutants present in the waters of ecosystems and drinking water sources is an essential part of their duties, too. It is vital to the development of appropriate and thorough conservation techniques.
What tools to hydrologists use? A few of the tools used are mathematical modeling, remote sensing technology, and a multitude of lab equipment for water quality testing. This career can be field- or lab-based.
What Do Hydrologists Do?
With all of that said, what does a hydrologist do to fulfill these responsibilities? To put it succinctly, a hydrologist’s primary duties are very much influenced by their experience level, agency, and type of management (e.g. conservation, restoration, resource management, etc.) based on the Federal Hydrologist job description provided by the International Boundary and Water Commission.
Including all positions between entry-level to a supervisor, hydrologists are generally responsible for monitoring the movement and chemical composition of bodies of water, rain, snow, and other forms of precipitation. It is important to note, though, that although hydrologists typically work full-time, hydrologist working conditions and hours may vary according to institution and authority level.
They also study how these compositions of water impact river flows and groundwater levels, evaporation of groundwater into the atmosphere, and how it travels to and from the oceans. Studying how the water affects ecosystems (and vice versa) and the resulting quality and quantity of water is central to the hydrologist’s role in resource management as well.
Also, note that there are different types of hydrologists that specialize in the different subcategories mentioned above. For example, surface water hydrologists aid municipalities in managing resources for drinking water like rivers, lakes, and other reservoirs by using statistical modeling based on historical patterns of precipitation, water availability, and other relevant data.
Junior Hydrologist Job Duties
An example summary of entry-level or otherwise basic hydrologist duties is as follows:
- Hydrologic investigations
- Hydro telemetry
- Stream measurement
- Water accounting reports and flow computations
- Treaty compliance
- Flow operations
- Data management
From this list, it is clear that you’ll need a healthy amount of experience in statistics, environmental policy, and a bit of coding and data management experience. This job highlights the need for aspiring hydrologists to be familiar with major international policies such as the 1906 Convention and Water Treaty.
Senior Hydrologist Job Duties
A small bonus that comes along with a supervisory position is that the opportunity for remote work becomes available. Of course, this position would not be entirely remote, but with this option comes more flexibility in the execution of your work. Based on the Supervisory Hydrologist position at the Caribbean-Florida Water Science Center, an example list of senior job duties is as follows:
- Administrative management of personnel
- Scientific and technical direction of employees/department
- Plan and direct the operation of the hydrologic data collection network
- Establish and oversee quality control procedures for data collection, storage, publication, and analysis
- Plan programs and operations for public outreach and education
- Initiate and assign projects for the management team
- Operate motor vehicles as needed
Given this synopsis, you can see that the supervisory, or senior (to some extent), hydrologist is concerned with the bigger picture of hydrology work. This includes the oversight of data collection, program management, and policy adherence.
Where Do Hydrologists Work?
The career of a hydrologist is typically a full-time, permanent appointment. There are many different entities with which you can work as a hydrologist. Environmental consulting firms, local and state governments, and the federal government are among the main entities.
Addressing the local governmental work, you would want to consider water management districts more specifically. The need is more specific in these institutions and there is a higher likelihood for both field- and lab-based work.
What is the Average Hydrologist Salary?
How much money does a hydrologist make? The median annual salary for hydrologists in 2018 was $79,370. Further, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the lowest 10% of the salaries earned by these professionals in 2018 was an average of less than $48,820, and the highest 10% was over $122,890. Given this information, you can now see how much they make is influenced by many factors including the possession of a hydrology degree or other related field, location, and experience.
Hydrologists who worked for:
- Management, scientific, and technical consulting services earned an average of $92,090
- The federal government earned an average of $88,300
- Engineering services earned an average of $86,670
- Local government earned an average of $78,020
- State government earned an average of $65,230
Junior Hydrologist’s Salary
At a junior level, professionals can expect to earn between $42,000 and $96,900 per year.
Senior Hydrologist’s Salary
As they advance toward a senior level position, professionals can expect to earn closer to $90,000 and $122,000 per year.
Hydrologist Job Outlook
According to O*NET, the employment outlook for hydrologists is very bright and growing faster than average at 7-10%.
In 2018, there were about 7,000 hydrologists employed in the U.S. That number is predicted to grow by about 800 in the next 10 years.
Here’s a partial overview of the most recent hydrologist employment rates according to BLS:
|State||Estimated Number of Hydrologists Employed||Average Hourly Wage||Average Annual Salary|
Hydrologist Education Requirements
Similar to many professions in the life sciences, a career in hydrology demands advanced education, either to the level of a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
What does a hydrologist study? The minimum expectation is at least 30 semester hours in any combination of:
- Physical Sciences
- Aquatic biology
- Atmospheric science
- Environmental management
Coursework in calculus (differential and integral) and physics, both at least 6 semester hours, are also essential.
High School Recommendations
When it comes to high school education plans for aspiring hydrologists, you’ll want to make sure to start your educational prerequisites early on. Taking courses that are largely focused on calculus, physics, chemistry, and physical sciences in general, along with geology and oceanography (or aquatic-/marine-related biology courses) will give you an early boost in the career search.
Extracurricular activities that will strengthen your resume include volunteer positions at local freshwater or ocean conservation centers and even city water resource management institutions.
Hydrology Undergraduate Programs
Unity College is one of the nation’s best environmentally-focused universities, offering programs both on-campus and online. Some of the undergraduate Unity programs you should consider in preparation for a career in hydrology are:
- Earth & Environmental Science
- Environmental Science & Climate Change
- Wildlife and Fisheries Management
- Environmental Policy, Law, and Society
- Parks and Forest Resources
- Marine Biology
These programs will thoroughly prepare you for the many different layers of work.
Hydrology Graduate Programs
Ten years is a long time for only 800 jobs to open up, so you will want to strengthen your resume as much as possible by acquiring a master’s degree in hydrology or another related field. About 52% of hydrologists surveyed by O*NET have a master’s degree, so the battleground is pretty split.
We understand that suitable hydrology master’s programs can be difficult to find. That said, our Unity graduate programs are better equipped to prepare you for your pursuit of a career in hydrology than most others you’ll find – even the most convenient online hydrology master’s programs.
Hydrology Certificate Programs
Hydrologists use modeling and remote sensing technologies in their regular work. For this reason, graduate certificates offered by Unity College would be perfect to begin shaping your resume for a career in hydrology.
There are no specific certifications required in order to become a hydrologist, but the GIScience program is recommended as an alternative to a full graduate school education.
Work Experience for Hydrologists
Because this profession largely depends on the education you have, there is less of an emphasis on your work experience. Still, it would benefit you to have water management-related experience in the form of volunteer positions or internships – even a position in fisheries management would provide you with a strong foundation of professional experience.
Related Hydrology Degree Courses
Consider these undergraduate and graduate degree paths at Unity College to prepare for your career:
- B.S. Environmental Science and Climate Change – Students will learn through the lens of climate change adaptation and mitigation.
- B.S. Earth and Environmental Science – Students will learn through the lens of climate change adaptation and mitigation.
- B.S. Environmental Studies – This gives students the knowledge and skills to address the most pressing environmental issues.
- M.S. Professional Science – This Master’s degree program provides students with the training and credentials needed to advance in their careers. There are two tracks to choose from:
- Sustainable Natural Resource Management – Students will be expected to be highly inquisitive about the ramifications, motivations, and cost of global responses to environmental issues while exploring their own ideas.
- Environmental Studies and Sustainability – Students should expect to explore, debate, and research possible solutions to climate change from a variety of viewpoints.