Job Description for a Hydrologist


Hydrologists are scientists who study the quantity, availability, circulation and physical properties of water and the water cycle to solve water-related problems. Consider the places you find water (oceans, rivers, lakes, the ground, your faucet) and how you use it (for drinking, washing dishes and clothes, cleaning your home and yourself, cooking). A hydrologist's job can be as diverse as the many locations and uses of water.


  • Hydrology examines the distribution, movement and properties of the earth's water and its relationship with the environment in each stage of the water cycle. The water cycle is the process of water evaporating from the earth's surface, returning to the atmosphere and then back to the earth's surface through precipitation. The hydrologist uses scientific knowledge and analysis to examine water in these different stages and solve issues such as flooding or contamination of a water source.

Tasks and Environment

  • Because the relationship between humans and water is so diverse, a hydrologist's job and work environment also varies. According to the US Geological Survey's (USGS) Water Science for Schools Web page, an engineering hydrologist participates in planning, evaluating and supervising projects that control and manage water resources.

    Some hydrologists work at a computer in an office, where they analyze data and use it to predict where flooding might occur and how it could effect current water sources. Hydrologists might also work in the field of environmental protection, planning pollution clean-up or prevention. They can specialize in groundwater pumped from the ground to the earth's surface, or surface water found in bodies of water like lakes. A hydrologist's work could occur in the office, a lab or in the field, where she might collect data, supervise water quality tests or direct a crew.


  • The USGS advises those who are considering a career in hydrology to focus their studies on math, statistics, geology and other sciences. Entry-level positions often require only a bachelor's degree, but most research positions with the government and private institutions prefer a master's.

    Universities often offer degrees in geoscience, environmental studies or engineering with a hydrology concentration. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic's Occupational Outlook Handbook, some states require hydrologists to have a license. The American Institute of Hydrology has certification programs that are often similar to the state licensure programs.


  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2009 Occupational Employment and Wages report, hydrologists earned a mean annual wage of $76,760, with the lowest percentile earning $46,290 and the highest, $110,110. The report found the highest paid hydrologists' positions were with the federal executive branch, with an annual mean wage of $82,150. The average annual wage for a hydrologist working in scientific research and development was $69,410.


  • The Occupational Outlook Handbooks projects an 18 percent growth rate for employment of geoscientists and hydrologists between 2008 and 2018, a faster rate than the average for all occupations. Energy needs and environmental concerns will play a key role in this employment growth. Hydrologists with Master's degrees should find multiple employment options, although those with doctoral degrees, who tend to go into university teaching positions, may encounter competition for faculty position.

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  • Photo Credit faucet image by Laura Dynan from rain drops 2 image by Stanislav Halcin from test tubes in the laboratory in holder image by alma_sacra from
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