Hydrologist: Salary and Career Facts

Research what it takes to become a hydrologist. Learn about job duties, educational requirements, licensing and potential salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Science, Technology, and International Security degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Hydrologist?

A hydrologist analyzes water resources, usually working in a specialized area such as groundwater, rivers or oceans. Hydrologists may study water properties such as pH; the effects of erosion, human development or pollution; or the cycles of water flow in a river or stream. They might also develop proposals for sustainable use of irrigation, hydroelectric power or wastewater systems. Hydrologists often use computer models to predict things like water supply, pollution levels and more. Part of their job might be to present water information to the government and/or the public, as well as prepare written reports of any findings. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Degree Required Entry-level may accept bachelor's degree; master's degree for most jobs; PhD for advanced research & academia
Education Field of Study Geoscience, engineering, earth science with specialty in hydrology
Key Skills Collect, analyze, measure water samples & data; plan for sustainable water use & protection
Licensure Required Government employers may require licensing; voluntary certification available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 7%*
Average Salary (2015) $83,440*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would My Duties Be As a Hydrologist?

Hydrology is the study of water and water resources around the planet. As a hydrologist, you'd use sophisticated tools and instruments to measure the flow, distribution and quality of water sources. You may work for different types of scientific, academic or government institutions, and your responsibilities may range from searching for natural groundwater sources to assessing the flow rates of a river.

As a hydrologist, it's likely that you'll specialize. For example, you may conduct scientific analyses of surface water sources, or you may investigate underground water sources. You'll often spend a time in the field, using remote sensing equipment to collect data and conduct surveys. The rest of your time will likely be spent in a research lab or office environment, analyzing data and constructing models.

What Education Will I Need?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you'll typically need at least a master's degree before you can find a position as a hydrologist (www.bls.gov). You can prepare for a graduate degree program by completing a baccalaureate degree in geosciences, physical sciences, biology, math or physics. A Master of Science (M.S.) in Hydrology or an M.S. in Geosciences with a concentration in hydrology can provide you with an advanced knowledge of water cycles and geophysical processes, while at the same time introducing you to research opportunities. You may also choose to earn a doctoral degree in hydrology if you're interested in obtaining a job in academia or high-level scientific research.

Do I Need To Be Licensed or Certified?

If you work as a hydrologist for a local, state or federal agency, then you may be required to gain licensure. To do so, you typically need to pass an exam administered by your state's licensing board. Some states may require the American Institute of Hydrology (AIH) certification exam for licensure (www.aihydrology.org). You may also choose to obtain certification from the AIH in order to register as a professional hydrologist, even if your state doesn't require it.

What Salary Could I Expect to Make?

The BLS reported that approximately 6,580 individuals worked as professional hydrologists in the U.S. in May 2015, with the highest number of hydrologists working for the federal government and scientific consulting services. Their average annual salary was $83,440.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A couple of related careers that require a bachelor's degree include environmental engineers and geoscientists. Environmental engineers work to solve environmental problems, such as pollution, using various techniques from engineering, biology, chemistry and more. Geoscientists study the Earth and its physical characteristics. They try to piece together Earth's past and present. Urban and regional planners are also similar positions, but require a master's degree. These professionals help communities plan, expand and improve.

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