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Hydrologist Job Description, Career as a Hydrologist, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training: Advanced degree

Salary: Median—$61,510 per year

Employment Outlook: Excellent

Definition and Nature of the Work

Hydrologists examine the physical characteristics, distribution, and circulation of water above and below the earth's surface. They study rainfall and other precipitation, the paths precipitation takes through the soil and rocks underground, and its return to the oceans and air. The government and private industry use this information about water properties and movement patterns for a variety of purposes.

Many hydrologists assist in water conservation. The work they do is very important for environmental preservation; for instance, they may project water shortages, analyze the quality of potential water sources, or monitor the inflow and outflow of reservoirs. Some hydrologists forecast and help to prepare a region for conditions such as flooding, snowmelt, drought, and the formation and melting of river ice. Hydrologists often serve as consultants to scientists, engineers, developers, and governing bodies. They may study the feasibility of water reclamation or routing projects, or they may determine the possible effects of activities such as drilling, land development, and bridge construction on local waters.

Hydrologists generally perform research at a variety of outdoor sites, but they also work in laboratories. Hydrologists may monitor wells, record water depths, and measure stream flows or runoff rates. They frequently collect and analyze water samples and research historical data on storms and floods.

Education and Training Requirements

A bachelor's degree in a field related to hydrology is required, and a master's degree is strongly preferred to become a hydrologist. Related fields of study include geology, geophysics, civil engineering, soil science, forestry, and agricultural engineering. Courses that are considered essential for training as a hydrologist include chemistry, physics, calculus, water quality, hydrology, hydraulics, and meteorology.

A hydrologist gathers data in order to project water shortages. (© Terry Wild Studio. Reproduced by permission.)

Getting the Job

Trade publications and newspapers advertise job vacancies in the industry. Federal and state job placement offices can provide information about government jobs for hydrologists and may offer leads about jobs in industry as well. Candidates can also check with college placement offices or write directly to firms involved in hydrology or related projects.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Hydrologists have excellent potential for advancement, especially if they pursue graduate studies. They may become supervisors, project directors, or agency administrators. They may obtain research grants, join college or university faculties, or become top-level government or industrial consultants.

Employment for hydrologists is expected to grow much faster than the average through the year 2014. Hydrology-related projects are affected by government spending limitations. However, hydrologists will be needed to help companies comply with the growing number of environmental laws and regulations.

Working Conditions

Hydrology requires a substantial amount of site work, particularly for beginners. This type of fieldwork can be uncomfortable, strenuous, and even somewhat risky. Hydrologists are expected to work in remote areas, walk long distances over rough terrain, carry heavy equipment, and wade in streams and other bodies of water. Moreover, they work outdoors in all types of weather conditions.

Although hydrologists generally have a regular forty-hour workweek, overtime may be required to meet deadlines. They also may have to travel long distances.

Earnings and Benefits

Hydrologists earn a median of $61,510 per year. Those with a bachelor's degree earn a starting salary averaging $32,828 per year. Those with a master's degree earn a starting salary averaging $47,981 per year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2005 hydrologists working for the federal government in managerial, supervisory, and nonsupervisory positions earned an average of $77,182 per year. Benefits generally include paid vacations and sick leave, hospitalization and life insurance, and pension plans.

Where to Go for More Information

American Institute of Hydrology
300 Village Green Circle, Ste. 201
Smyrna, GA 30080
(770) 384-1634

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