The field of hydrology focuses on a variety of water-related phenomena and issues, from water contamination to sea level rise. Learn more about this occupation, what jobs are available and what education is necessary.

Is Hydrology for Me?

Career Overview

Hydrology is the study of the natural movement, distribution and supply of water. Hydrologists solve a range of water-related issues using their knowledge of the hydrologic cycle, the process by which water on the earth's surface evaporates into the atmosphere and returns to the surface through precipitation. Hydrologists may focus on water resource supplies, water quality and contamination, ecological preservation or water-related climate extremes, like floods and droughts. To work as a hydrologist, you'll need a strong background in mathematics and physical science, along with computer modeling and statistical skills.

Employment Options

Graduates of hydrology degree programs often work for state and federal government agencies, such as the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Others find positions with non-profit organizations that deal with water resources management and water conservation. Advanced degree holders may work as consultants in the areas of regulatory compliance or water quality testing. Local planners and developers often hire hydrologists, water conservation specialists and hydrology engineers for expertise on a range of issues, from coastal saltwater intrusion to stormwater runoff. At the doctorate level, hydrologists generally work as college professors and researchers at national laboratories or research institutes.

Salary and Job Outlook

Hydrology is an in-demand field with good job prospects; the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected average job growth at 10% for hydrologists during the period from 2012-2022 (www.bls.gov). The best opportunities were expected for those with master's degrees. Hydrology jobs will stem largely from the need to reduce the impacts from natural hazards as well as the increase of construction projects and the mining of natural resources. As of May 2013, the median annual salary for hydrologists was $75,710, per the BLS.

How Can I Work As a Hydrologist?

Education Requirements

A small number of universities offer bachelor's degrees in hydrology. In other schools, hydrology may be offered as a concentration within geology and related departments at the undergraduate and graduate levels. While a bachelor's degree can qualify graduates for some entry-level positions, job opportunities remain limited without advanced education. As such, most hydrologists hold master's or doctoral degrees in hydrology. Master's degrees are generally needed for basic research, consulting and other positions in government and private institutions. Doctoral degrees are necessary to conduct independent, high-level research and to teach at the college level. At the graduate level, students develop further specialization in such areas as surface hydrology, groundwater hydrology or wastewater management, depending on their particular interests.

Licensing and Certification

Some states require hydrologists who work directly with the public to obtain state licensure. While requirements vary, licensure typically involves meeting education and work experience requirements qualifications and passing an exam. Voluntary certification is also available to professionals in the field through the American Institute of Hydrology, which also requires passing an exam covering the fundamentals of hydrology (www.aihydrology.org).

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