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Groundwater Geologist


Description

Water makes the world go round, covering 70 percent of our planet. Without it, we would not be able to swim, quench our thirst, take showers or wash our vegetables. Groundwater geologists, sometimes called hydrogeologists study the properties, distribution and circulation of water in the earth's subsurface soil and underlying rocks (groundwater). They study existing groundwater sources, search for new water sources or take a more environmental approach, by studying groundwater contamination, landfill siting or liquid waste disposal by deep injection. Environmental hydrogeologists closely study our water, which can easily become contaminated with hazardous materials and diseases.

Groundwater geologists also study bodies of water and the different effects they have on our environment. For example, some groundwater projects that hydrogeologists may work on includes the construction of wells for pollution monitoring, treating already-polluted groundwater supplies, and studying the effects that groundwater has on surface water. They may also work on chemical and oil spills, water quality and pollutant transport, erosion and sediment deposits. Each one of the former factors has an effect on our future physical environment and it is important that they analyze and produce this data.

Groundwater geologists work closely with engineers and builders assessing building plans, water reservoirs and dams. They make serious decisions about closing water reservoirs or wells that have groundwater contaminated with a disease, such as E. coli. Also, they will do experiments on the potential effects of building roads and buildings and the impact these developments will have on existing groundwater supplies.

Hydrogeologists may work on developing new types of water energy, such as water wells and electrical power from dams. Some groundwater geologists study irrigation and the effects it has on agriculture and crops. In irrigation processes, water seeps into the ground to help crops grow during dry spells. However, they must closely monitor irrigation because in very dry climates or in various soil conditions, over-irrigation could lead to salination of the water, which will eventually destroy all crop yields. Many farmers are hydrogeologists without even knowing it.

Some groundwater geologists work in underdeveloped countries with no access to clean water, and help small communities start up wells and other clean water distribution centers. Working with developing communities can be very rewarding, especially since some have never had access to clean running water before. This kind of hydrology development work is very important because so many people are drinking contaminated groundwater in remote villages filled with pollution and diseases such as typhoid and hepatitis A. Groundwater geologists have to make sure there will be plenty of clean, drinkable water for generations to come.
 
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
$36,580
 
Median Salary:
$67,470
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
$133,310

  Interests and Skills  
What characteristics does it take to become a successful groundwater geologist? They must have the ability to work with complex scientific details, yet also have an innovative and creative imagination to come up with new ideas. Groundwater geologists must have excellent communication skills, both verbal and written, and have the ability to work independently and as part of a team. They have a real interest in water and its circulation in relation to the atmosphere and land.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Survey underground supplies of water and their movement
  • Study precipitation and infiltration rates
  • Conduct short-term and long-term climate assessments
  • Supply water through the construction of wells and monitor the wells for pollutants
  • Treat polluted groundwater supplies
  • Study the effect of groundwater production on the surface water supply
  • Study erosion and sedimentation and develop standards regarding these processes
  • Develop water and drainage management plans
  • Assist in minimizing the environmental impacts of pollution, water-borne diseases, erosion and sedimentation
  • Study public water supply needs, including flood and drought risk, water quality, wastewater, water base and recreation requirements, and their impacts on wetland habitats of fish and wildlife
  • Conduct environmental impact assessments of resource projects on water quantity and quality
  • Coordinate and supervise the work of technologists and technicians
  • A typical day for a groundwater geologist is hardly typical. They sometimes work alone or with a team of professionals, technologists and technicians. A day's work is generally divided between office and fieldwork and hours of work can be extremely long, especially in the field and in remote areas. In the office, they can be found working on computers, usually during standard hours, whereas in the field, they measure water levels and collect samples.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Groundwater geologists work for water resource companies, civil engineering and environmental consulting firms, and environmental and water-related or environmental government departments.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced groundwater geologists may work with consulting firms overseas or advance to water resource management positions. Job opportunities are best for hydrogeologists willing to travel to developing countries where their services are desperately needed. Others can move into teaching at the university level after years of field experience or work as a researcher for a university or government institution.
 

  Educational Paths  
The minimum education requirement for groundwater geologists is a four-year undergraduate degree in a related discipline such as environmental science, civil engineering, geology, or agriculture, with a strong hydrology component. Those who are interested in teaching hydrogeology at the postsecondary level or doing serious research, a master's degree and even a PhD, in some instances, is required for most positions. Also, at the master's and PhD level is when groundwater geologists can really specialize in the study of water. Excellent practical experience can be gained by volunteering for government agencies which deal with the environment, wildlife or forestry.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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