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Water makes the world go round. Without it, we would not be able to swim, quench our thirst, take showers or wash our vegetables. Hydrologists study the properties, distribution and circulation of water in the atmosphere, both on the surface and in subsurface soil and underlying rocks or groundwater. They study existing water 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. They also seek to protect endangered wildlife from potential pollutants. Environmental hydrologists closely study our water, which can easily become contaminated with materials and diseases hazardous to our health.

Hydrologists also study bodies of water and the different effects they have on our environment. For example, some projects that hydrologists may work on are: coastal and lake ecosystem management, where they study water levels, currents, winds, waves and breakwater configurations; river and watershed management; flood damage reduction; river care; 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.

Hydrologists work closely with engineers and builders assessing building plans, water reservoirs and dams. They make serious decisions about closing water reservoirs or evacuating areas during floods. Also, they will do experiments on the potential effects of building roads and buildings and the impact these developments will have on existing water supplies.

Hydrologists may work on developing new types of water energy, such as water wells and electrical power from dams. Those who study floods look at the causes and find ways to prevent future floods through building structures and reservoirs. Other hydrologists study irrigation and the effects it has on agriculture and crops.

Some hydrologists work in developing 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 water in remote villages filled with pollution and diseases such as typhoid and hepatitis A. Hydrologists have to make sure there will be plenty of clean, drinkable water for generations to come.
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Online Learning at Concordia University–Portland

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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
What characteristics does it take to become a successful hydrologist? 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. Hydrologists 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  
  • Study water flows in rivers and streams and survey underground supplies of water and their movement
  • Study precipitation and infiltration rates
  • Conduct short-term and long-term climate assessments
  • Investigate glaciers, ice, snow and permafrost
  • Study erosion and sedimentation and develop standards regarding these processes
  • Assess the feasibility of developing hydroelectric power plants, irrigation systems, flood warning systems and water supplies
  • Develop water and drainage management plans
  • Assist in minimizing the environmental impacts of pollution, water-borne diseases, erosion and sedimentation
  • Develop new methods or modify existing methods for conducting hydrologic studies
  • 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
  • May prepare technical reports
  • Coordinate and supervise the work of technologists and technicians
  • A typical day for a hydrologist 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  
  • Hydrologists work for water resource companies, civil engineering and environmental consulting firms, and environmental and water related government departments.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Experienced hydrologists may work with consulting firms overseas or advance to water resource management positions. Job opportunities are best for hydrologists 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 hydrologists 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 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 hydrologists 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.

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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