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What does a Hydrologist do?

For the reader interested in the hydrologist career or the individual encountering the term “hydrologist” for the first time, much comes to mind. First, the career path seeker might ask the question, “What does a hydrologist do,” while the person new to the occupation in its entirety might ask, “What is a hydrologist?” In order to begin to understand the role of a hydrologist, it becomes necessary to examine the duties and responsibilities such a title entails. Below the reader will discover what a hydrologist does, as well as information on duties, skills, salary, and educational requirements.

Who is a Hydrologist?

Water is the element that hydrologists maintain an intense interest in; the professional hydrologist will spend his career studying water and its action in myriad forms. For example, when water moves through and across the crust of the Earth, the hydrologist might spend time studying this movement. Snow, rain and any kind of precipitation is a subject of examination for the professional hydrologist who will also note how changes in precipitation influence the levels of groundwater or the natural flow of the rivers. In addition to precipitation, the method in which the atmosphere takes in evaporated water allowing it to then transport to the rivers and oceans all over the world is an event the hydrologist might examine. Essentially, how water behaves and influences the natural environment as well as the quantity and the overall quality of water are something the hydrologist learns to assess. Thus, when an issue arises with water availability or quality, the hydrologist examines the situation and to perhaps propose a solution to the issue.

Hydrologist Job Description


The professional hydrologist studies the influence of erosion, pollution, and drought on the environment. The professional might have to collect soil and water samples for testing to ensure it is pollution free or there are the proper pH levels in both. The hydrologist will also take part in big project planning; in particular, when it comes to the development of wastewater treatment facilities, irrigation systems, and hydroelectric power plants as well as other projects that prove to have some type for water control or use. The trained individual will know how to use the appropriate equipment of data collection, some of which is remote sensing capable. The hydrologist may work with other technicians who install and care for the equipment, but the professional might also be responsible for dealing with such equipment. Computer usage is necessary for role of the hydrologist since it proves a tool necessary for data analysis, establishing models based on collected data, and for developing a comprehensive understanding of datasets, some of which can prove immensely complicated. The hydrologist is one trained to use global positioning systems, (GPS devices) and geographic information systems (GIS devices) in order to perform job function.

When working in this position, the professional may find it necessary to make water measurements in various bodies of water including streams and rivers. The individual will also need to be good at research and writing, as the hydrologist will often need to look into ways in minimizing the impact of environmental pollution, sedimentation, and erosion. When there are findings, the person filling this role will need to put everything into a report and sometimes a presentation is required.

The hydrologist job description includes the fact the individual may be required to work with other scientists, engineers, public officials or other agencies whenever looking to control a supply of water. Sometimes the hydrologist works with those who make laws and this helps put conservation efforts into effect. Other times a biologist might work alongside the hydrologist to determine the water needs of specific wildlife. Some work titles the individual might retain include Research Hydrologist, Professor, Hydrologic Engineer, Hydrogeologist, Hydraulic Engineer, Groundwater Programs Director, Groundwater Consultant, Environmental Consultant, or Assistant Groundwater Engineer, among others. The title will depend on where the individual works.

Hydrologist Duties and Tasks

  • Must have an understanding of the cyclical nature of water and its availability’
  • Must be ready to address issues related to droughts, floods, and storm surges
  • Water monitoring equipment know-how
  • Recommendations for water control and management
  • Identifying area-related risks and purpose solutions
  • Working with other professionals and scientist on water-control, management, and maintenance projects

Skills Required

  • Numerical Modeling
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
  • Global Positioning Systems (GPS)
  • Environmental Consulting

Working Conditions


A hydrologist will likely work in an office at least some of the time as research and writing are responsibilities of the individual chosen for the position. There is some fieldwork necessary as well, particularly when collecting samples for analysis or assessing conditions in which the hydrologist has input will result in a solution to an existing issue related to water conditions or water management projects. The outdoor conditions might not always be pleasant. The hydrologist will likely experience travels while on the job, especially travel in line with fieldwork and research. Some hydrologists may work for research centers, the government or in private sector-related positions. The job is typically full time, and the hours the individual works each day can vary.

Hydrologist Salary


The answer to the question “how much do hydrologist make,” goes along with the examination of the job and the responsibilities associated with it. A number of factors shape hydrologist salary fluctuations from one region to another and deviations resulting in pay less or greater than the national average are the norm. Experience definitely has an impact on what a person makes working in this position. The hiring agency, office, research center or other entity, while following state and federal guidelines regarding fair pay, still have some flexibility in terms of the salary offered.

How Much do Hydrologists Make?

The national average salary for a hydrologist position is about $62,000. Those individuals with skills in using geographic information systems, environmental consulting skills, and experience with numerical modeling can have salaries between 2% and 5% higher than the national average. What’s more, one’s level of experience does have a substantial impact on the amount of money the professional makes. For example, if the individual is taking up a mid-career level hydrologist position but brings to the job some experience, the individual’s salary increases by as much as 4% over the national average. If transitioning from one experienced level job to another, where the individual as 10 to 20 years experience, it can mean a salary that is 21% greater than the national average. For those individuals with 20 years or more in the industry as a hydrologist, the individual’s experience can equal up to as much as 50% more than the national average. The only level seemingly unaffected by experience is entry-level, where the starting salary can be up to 13% less than the national average in some areas.


An entry-level position as a hydrologist is about $8,000 less than the national average at $54,000. The mid-career salary applies to those in the field for five to ten years, and this is where a hydrologist earns a salary of $65,000, which is $3,000 greater than the national average. Once the hydrologist enters the experienced level of his career, he begins taking in a salary of about 75,000, which is $13,000 greater than the national average. The uppermost salary in this position is usually around $93,000 for those who have reached the advanced positions.

Hydrologist Employment


About 8% of those individuals working this position now has been doing so less than a year. Nearly 35% of those who are working have held the position up to five years. Another 29 percent have five to ten years of experience as a hydrologist. Right around 16% of hydrologists have ten to 19 years experience. Finally, about 15% of hydrologists have entered into the advanced stages of their career with 20 years or more experience.

From 2010 to 2011 there was little growth in the way of jobs in this sector as 50 more jobs were available on 2011 versus the 6910 jobs available in 2010. In 2012 a decline in jobs is evident and this decline continues into 2013; in the two-year span, there is a loss of 420 positions. In 2014 another mild increase in the number of hydrologist jobs occurs; there’s an increase of about 40 jobs from 2013 to 2014. The fluctuations from 2010 to 2014 make one thing evident: The sector where hydrologists work is and will likely remain highly competitive.


About 88% of all hydrologists have medical insurance. About 69% also have dental. Roughly 49% of all hydrologists have vision coverage. Of those who have no coverage, there’s about 11% of all the people working as hydrologists.

Gender Distribution

The gender distribution in relation to the position of hydrologist is clearly uneven and in favor of male employees. When it comes to male hydrologists, the group makes up 72% or nearly two-thirds of all hydrologists, with the remaining 28% or nearly one-third of people working in the industry are females.
The fact that there are few women working as hydrologists gives clear indication that the occupation is a male dominated industry.


As author Ellen Pollack explains in, “The Only Woman in the Room: Why Science Is Still a Boys’ Club,” the obstacles that many minority groups face when working in scientific fields are not the same challenges women face … in jobs heavily related to scientific investigation, “women hold at minimum a double-minority status.” Pollack also explains how some females grow weary of struggling for career success all while trying to juggle the responsibilities of house and home: The type of responsibilities fewer men handle and that sometimes the need to achieve in the scientific industry “to publish or perish,” becomes a nearly impossible demand to meet. In other words, it is more difficult for women to work in the scientific fields and maintain a modicum of a freedom and a private life outside of the workplace.

How to Become a Hydrologist?


Of course, the answer to how to become a hydrologist includes obtaining the appropriate, approved and fully accredited education. An oversimplified explanation is that the student will pursue a  Master’s degree at an accredited college. The student will undertake a variety of hydrology related courses as well as coursework in the sciences.

Brief overview

It is possible to sometimes land an entry level hydrologist position with just a bachelor’s degree, but it is the Master’s degree that will offer the student the greatest amount of leverage when pursuing a career in this field. The student will major in science and hydrology, while also engaging in earth science studies, engineering, and geosciences research. Some students might find they have to earn special certifications and licensing in specific states.

Hydrologist Education Requirements

When you are looking to earn a college degree where you can work toward a having a rewarding career as a hydrologist, there’s a lot of work ahead. For students still in high school looking to prep for college, courses in physics, mathematics, and chemistry are ideal pursuits.

When pursuing your post secondary education, you will need to get a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school; you can major in Environmental Science, Geology, or Hydrology, as much of the coursework can transfer into a Master’s degree program. You can also major in Environmental Engineering provided you have some established experience in environmental science, chemistry, geology, or hydrology studies. If you are looking to work inside a research lab, you will need to pursue a Ph.D. with a focus on geology, hydrology, or the environmental sciences. The education of the hydrologist is ongoing and as new technologies develop and advancements arise, the hydrologist might have to complete programs to certify the necessary knowledge of the newer material is obtained successfully.

Hydrologist Colleges

When it comes to choosing one of many hydrologist colleges students will find a number of affordable options. There are colleges located throughout the United States, and financial assistance is often available. Below is a listing of some of the leading colleges in the nation, all of which have programs appropriate for the hydrologist career pursuit.

  1. University of Arizona
  2. University of California Santa Barbara
  3. University of California Davis
  4. Northern Michigan University
  5. Western Michigan University
  6. Saint Cloud State University
  7. SUNY College at Oneonta, New York
  8. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York
  9. The University of Texas at Austin
  10. Northland College, Wisconsin

Major Subjects

The types of coursework the student can expect to encounter when pursuing a degree with a focus on hydrology include math and sciences. When it comes to mathematics, the coursework will help in learning how to measure and collect samples for data, how to document reports, and a study of math helps the student in mastering formulas, logical thinking, focus, and discipline. Coursework will include statistics, calculus, geometry, algebra, and arithmetic as well as the implementation of all of the latter concepts. Since being a hydrologist takes a lot of written work, such as the development of presentations, English classes are a part of the student’s coursework where the student will master grammar, composition, style, and spelling. Engineering sciences, physics, chemistry, geography, biology, electronics and computers, and law and government, are also some of the courses the hopeful hydrologist will undertake while an accredited university or college.

Hydrologist Specializations


There are specific specializations a hydrologist can become skilled at, and sometimes the individual will have a specialization in the type of water one works with or some part of the natural water cycle. When focusing on water’s cyclical nature the scientist might study how water evaporates from streams  and lakes. Sometimes specializations lead to specialized job titles and responsibilities as well. See the following specialization below as examples of the kinds of job titles a hydrologist might receive, along with the unique responsibilities of the said specialization:

Groundwater hydrologist: This is a person who’s focus is on bodies of water that are on the surface of the Earth. This job requires the cleaning and maintaining of contaminated bodies of water; cleaning up chemical spills in gas stations, airports, and factory settings, and some groundwater specialists deal with helping determine the best water supply to draw water from so it can be pumped for use. The groundwater hydrologist might be consulted to find out the most ideal location for a waste site: This is to keep nearby bodies of water protected and to prevent the water from being contaminated with nearby waste. Surface water Hydrologist: This individual studies and analyzes snow packs, lakes, streams, and other water sources above ground. This position might require tracking the levels of water and comparing usage levels to expected precipitation in an effort to advise the managers or reservoirs when it is best to release water and it is best to store it.

Other specializations the hydrologist can consider includes meteorology, atmospheric scientist, or some choose to teach in high school and college as well.

Professional Associations of Hydrologists

One leading professional association of hydrologists is the American Institute of Hydrology. The organization is one that has members across the nation. The association is one offering qualified professionals in hydrology industry opportunities to receive certification. The process of certification is rigorous and requires the individual to undergo testing and peer-review. The Board Registration, a nationally recognized panel of friendly professionals, verifies the applicant’s credentials to ensure the validity of the hydrology professional. The panel consists of ten members who the organization chooses and then appoints to the positions. The organization certified the first hydrologist in the fall of 1981 and began producing the AIH Journal entitle “Hydrological Science and Technology,” four years later in 1985. For those professionals interested in certification, the AIH makes clear the requirements for certification on their official website. There is a yearly fee associated with membership unless you are currently a student, in which case membership is free.

Famous Hydrologists

 Robert E Horton (Born: 1975, Died: 1945): Many identify Horton as “The Father of Modern Day, American Hydrology.” A native of Michigan, he later studied Albion College in the late 1890s. His career involved work primarily as a hydraulic engineer for private and government agencies throughout the North Eastern region. His work included different areas related to the field of hydrology, including engineering, science, hydrometeorology, soil physics, geomorphology, and hydraulics. He had a rigorous approach to hydrology studies, primarily one that focused on mathematical and quantitative data. He is known for having development many valid approaches to the study of soils, runoff waters, and erosional morphology, and he produced a 95-page landmark body work before passing away a month later.  James C. I. Dooge (Born 1922, Died: 2010) is another intelligent politician and hydrologist who was committed to public service during his career. His influence proved profound, not just in the field of hydrology, but also on the questions related to climate change, and in the European Union’s formation. In the early 1940s, he studied at college in Dublin where he earned a degree in science and civil engineering. He developed an interested in hydrology, one that he would retain for the rest of his life, following the completion of some work projects with the Electricity Supply Board and the Irish Office of Public Works. He continued his college education and got a Masters in Science with a focus on civil engineering from the University of Iowa. He pursued a PhD after that and in the late 1950s pursued a career in academia at the University of College Cork and later at the University of College Dublin. He contributed the hydrology field greatly with “the theoretical foundations of an approach to hydrology, flood routing, and he developed the unit hydrograph theory.

Hydrologists FAQ

What is the job outlook for a hydrologist?

In 2014, there were nearly 7,000 hydrologist positions. Of the latter mentioned jobs, 28% of the positions are in the federal government. About 22% are jobs related to consulting services of a technical bent, scientific research sectors, and management. Nearly 17 percent of the hydrologist careers are also involved with engineering work. An equal amount of positions was in state jobs, and 9% of the hydrologists worked in positions available in local government agencies. Between 2014 and 2024, the hydrology sector will grow by about 500 jobs and this is equal to about a 7% growth rate. Will this is certainly an increase in jobs, the sector still remains remarkably competitive, so the student would do best if he or she pursues and advanced education in order to have the edge on others interested in pursuing the same career.

What are the pros and cons of being a hydrologist?

As a new hydrologist, you may face a lot of fieldwork and travel and this might not appeal to every individual. You may face working outdoors in bad weather conditions. The competition for the hydrology position is one that will remain fierce now and within the next decade, so rigorous study and certification is necessary. The pay, however, allows for a comfortable living, and as one advance there is room for growth in terms of annual income.

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