What is a hydrologist?This is an image of Pedernales Falls in Texas.

The job of the hydrologist is to solve problems of water quality, quantity, and availability. Hydrologists study all of the physical, chemical, and biological processes involving water as it travels its various paths over and beneath the earth’s crust.  Trained hydrologists may have a wide variety of job titles. Some specialize in the study of water in just one part of the hydrologic cycle: hydrometeorologists study water in the atmosphere, glaciologists study water and ice associated with glaciers, geomorphologists understand past water events from present landforms, geochemists study water quality, and hydrogeologists evaluate the effects of geologic conditions on water in the ground and on the land surface. Engineers who study hydrology include those in agricultural, civil, environmental, hydraulic, irrigation, and sanitary engineering.

What makes a good hydrologist?

Good hydrologists are curious about the past and intrigued by the possible developments of the future. They are trained to observe natural processes that may unfold over long periods of time, make notes of their observations, and analyze them critically. Hydrologists often love the outdoors and are drawn to their profession by a feeling of social responsibility or an environmental ethic. Many hydrologic studies now include scientists with expertise in other fields, so a hydrologist must have good communication skills and be able to work as a team member to solve problems.

What is life as a hydrologist like?

The work of hydrologists is as varied as the uses of water and may range from planning multimillion dollar interstate water projects to advising homeowners about backyard drainage problems and advising engineers on the construction of wetlands. Scientists and engineers working in hydrology may be involved in both field investigations and office work. In the field, they may collect physical data from rivers, streams, and wells; collect water samples and conduct tests of water quality; direct field crews; and work with heavy equipment and delicate monitoring devices. Many hydrology jobs require travel, some local, some abroad. A hydrologist’s field sites may range from suburban yards to remote and rugged terrain accessed by helicopter. In the office, hydrologists interpret hydrologic data, write reports, and prepare oral presentations of results. Much of their work relies on computers for organizing, summarizing and analyzing masses of data, and for developing predictive models of phenomena such as river flooding, the consequences of reservoir releases, and the effect of leaking underground oil storage tanks on nearby ground water supplies.

How do I become a hydrologist?

Students who plan to become hydrologists need training in mathematics, statistics, geology, physics, computer science, chemistry, and biology. In addition, some background in other subjects—economics, public finance, environmental law, government policy—can be useful for communicating with experts in those fields and to understand the implications of their work on hydrology. A hydrologist must learn to write clearly and concisely in order to communicate results to policymakers, regulators, other scientists, and the general public. Experience in public speaking is also useful to the hydrologist, who will often make public presentations to those audiences.

What/where are the jobs?

Hydrologists work both in research positions and applied areas wherever the availability, quality, or disposal of water is part of the task. Employers include a variety of federal agencies such as the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, and Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency. State and local governments also hire hydrolologists to help manage the use and preservation of water resources. Environmental consulting firms also provide many career opportunities for hydrologists, and university faculty not only conduct research but also teach new students.