Outlook for Hydrology Jobs

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What is hydrology?

Hydrology focuses on the study of Earth’s water systems. The field also explores how water’s movement, properties, and distribution cycle directly impacts the environment. Hydrologists study water in all of its forms, whether it appears as a gas, solid, or liquid. Water can be found in the soil, atmosphere, in lakes and oceans, and even locked away in glaciers. Hydrologists study the water cycle, which occurs when water evaporates and rises into the atmosphere and then condenses and falls back to the earth’s surface and oceans. Hydrology also studies how the human population redistributes water, since humans use water for everything ranging from agriculture to power generation. Additionally, hydrologists study the quality and sustainability of reused water.

Hydrology is relevant in a wide array of fields, including geology, environmental science, civil engineering, physical geography, climatology, and environmental conservation. Hydrologists aim to solve problems related to the earth’s water supply, including issues related to safe drinking water, problems with flooding, environmental preservation efforts, or other unforeseen issues. Hydrologists study how water affects the surrounding environment and how environmental changes affect the Earth’s water systems. The relationship between water and the environment results in varying levels of water quality and quantity.

What does a hydrologist do?

If you’re considering a career in hydrology, it’s important to understand the numerous tasks involved with the field. Hydrologists are generally responsible for:

  • Observing and measuring the current, volume, and other properties of bodies of water.
  • Studying data on how erosion, flooding, drought, and pollution affect the environment.
  • Conducting research on how water-related disasters can be prevented or minimized.
  • Testing various water and soil samples for pollution.
  • Deciding whether new water treatment facilities, sewage systems, irrigation sprinklers, and other water-related projects are feasible and efficient.
  • Making water-related forecasts based on computer modeling technology.
  • Presenting new information via written reports and other presentations.

Careers in hydrology:

When planning for a career in hydrology, it is important to note that different hydrologists specialize in specific types of water-related data.

Surface water hydrologists

Surface water hydrologists are committed to studying rainfall, lakes, snow, and other aboveground water resources. The information collected by surface water hydrologists can help with managing a city’s water supply, and hydrologists can help make predictions as to how much water a city might need in the immediate future.

Surface water hydrologists are also tasked with making sure that reservoirs do not go over capacity and flood the surrounding area. Hydrologists monitor these reservoirs by studying data found in topographic maps and aerial photographs. When trying to determine overall water supply management over the long term, hydrologists take a number of factors into consideration, including the specific water needs of populations within a city, flow predictions of surface water, irrigation needs, and how seasonal changes can affect overall water supplies. Hydrologists use computers to analyze this data and calculate how the water supply should be managed for the near future.

Surface water hydrologists work with environmental engineers in an effort to eliminate pollution in water supplies. The effects of chemicals, toxic metals, sewage, and other pollutants must be carefully monitored so as to ensure safety for the human population, animals, and the environment.

Groundwater hydrologists

Groundwater hydrologists work with water found beneath the Earth’s surface. This water can be severely affected by chemical spills or other types of pollution-related incidents, which can damage various water supplies. Groundwater may also be contaminated from leaking oil tanks, hazardous household chemicals, and raw sewage, among other types of pollutants. It is important to protect groundwater, since it supplies the U.S. population with its largest source of usable water.

Groundwater hydrologists also help determine which locations would be suitable for wells and other types of groundwater projects. These hydrologists collect and analyze soil samples and observe rocks and sediment in order to determine the safety of underground water supplies.

An education in hydrology

Careers in hydrology require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, and many hydrologists will earn a master’s degree before embarking on their career. A Ph.D. is required for those seeking to work with advanced research in hydrology.

While not many universities offer degrees in hydrology, it is possible to prepare for a career as a hydrologist by taking on coursework in statistics, computer science, math, and life science. Some universities may offer hydrology as a concentration for students in engineering, earth science, or geoscience.

The Future of Hydrology

The demand for hydrologists is growing at a rapid rate due to numerous environmental issues caused by climate change, hydraulic fracturing, construction projects, mining, droughts, and flooding. May of 2016 saw full-time hydrologists earn a median annual wage of $80,480. Hydrologists continue to make valuable contributions in the field of civil engineering and other related industries.

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