Hydrologists study how water interacts with the earth's crust. For example, they may study how rainfall and snowfall cause erosion, create caves, percolate through soil and rock to become groundwater, or eventually reach the sea. They may also study how precipitation affects people by influencing river levels or groundwater availability. Hydrologists also help investigate contaminated sites to assess how water flow might disperse pollutants, or how polluted water can be remediated.
Groundwater hydrologists study the water below earth's surface. Most groundwater hydrologists focus on cleaning up polluted groundwater at industrial contamination sites. Others work on water supply, siting new well locations and estimating amounts of water available for pumping. They often help determine the locations of new waste disposal sites to prevent groundwater contamination.
Surface water hydrologists study above ground water sources such as streams, lakes, and glaciers. They may work with usage and precipitation data to estimate water levels in reservoirs. Their estimates help reservoir managers make decisions about storing and releasing water to meet demand. They also create flood forecasts and help develop flood management plans.
Most hydrologists develop specialties, such as glacial meltwaters or groundwater remediation.
Most hydrologists collect water and soil samples and measure their properties. For example, they may record water volume, velocity, pH levels, and pollutant levels. They may also analyze data to assess the environmental impacts of pollutants, erosion, sedimentation, drought, other water-related issues, and research ways to minimize their effects. Hydrologists use computer models to forecast future conditions concerning water supplies, the spread or remediation of pollution, floods, and other events. They may also assess the suitability of new hydroelectric power plants, irrigation systems, and waste water treatment facilities.
Hydrologists often use advanced computer technology in their work. For example, they may use remote sensing equipment to collect data, and geographic information systems (GIS) to create maps. They also develop and use sophisticated computer models to analyze large datasets.
Hydrologists often cooperate with others to manage water supplies. For example, they may work with engineers and scientists to study water availability, and with government officials to develop conservation plans and policies.
Some people who study hydrology become college professors or teach high school science.
Hydrologists work outdoors and in offices. In the field, they may wade into lakes and streams to collect samples or to handle monitoring equipment. When indoors, hydrologists use computers to analyze and model data. They also write reports on the conditions of surface and ground water. Many jobs require travel, with some private sector jobs requiring international travel.
Most hydrologists work full time. Shifts may vary when conducting fieldwork.
You can become a hydrologist with just a bachelor's degree, but if you want to advance beyond an entry-level position, you will have to earn at least a master's degree. Your degree must be in hydrology, or in geoscience, environmental science or engineering with a concentration in hydrology or water sciences. You will need to earn a Ph.D. if you aspire to do advanced research or get a highly coveted position on the faculty of a university.
Some states require hydrologists to have licenses that are issued by state licensing boards. To get one, you will have to meet certain educational and experience stipulations and pass an exam.
To become certified, you will need a bachelor's degree and five years of work experience, a master's degree and four years of experience, or a doctorate degree and three years of experience.
You will also have to pass a two-part written exam.