Hydrologists

Career, Salary and Education Information

What They Do: Hydrologists study how water moves across and through the Earth's crust.

Work Environment: Hydrologists work in offices and in the field. In offices, hydrologists spend much of their time using computers to analyze data and model their findings. In the field, hydrologists may have to wade into lakes and streams to collect samples or to read and inspect monitoring equipment.

How to Become One: Hydrologists need at least a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions; however, some workers begin their careers with a master’s degree.

Salary: The median annual wage for hydrologists is $84,030.

Job Outlook: Employment of hydrologists is projected to show little or no change over the next ten years.

Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of hydrologists with similar occupations.

Following is everything you need to know about a career as a hydrologist with lots of details. As a first step, take a look at some of the following jobs, which are real jobs with real employers. You will be able to see the very real job career requirements for employers who are actively hiring. The link will open in a new tab so that you can come back to this page to continue reading about the career:

Top 3 Hydrologist Jobs

  • Hydrologist: Boise, Idaho - Greening Youth Foundation - Boise, ID

    The incumbent serves a Hydrologist -in training with responsibility for participating in geomorphic studies of considerable scope and complexity. Specifically, the incumbent will assist in the ...

  • Associate Engineer- Hydrologic & Hydraulic Engineering and Modeling - Schaaf & Wheeler, Consulting Civil Engineers - Santa Clara, CA

    In this role, you will apply your skills to establish and apply hydrologic and hydraulic models to engineering problems, advancing both your technical and project management skills. You will be part ...

  • Entry-Level Hydrology & Hydraulic Engineer - Tetra Tech - San Antonio, TX

    We are in search of an Entry-Level Hydrology & Hydraulic Engineer with an emphasis on analysis and design skills to complete a wide variety of challenging and complex hydrologic , hydraulic, and ...

See all Hydrologist jobs

What Hydrologists Do[About this section] [To Top]

Hydrologists study how water moves across and through the Earth's crust. They study how rain, snow, and other forms of precipitation impact river flows or groundwater levels, and how surface water and groundwater evaporate back into the atmosphere or eventually reach the oceans. Hydrologists analyze how water influences the surrounding environment and how changes to the environment influence the quality and quantity of water. They use their expertise to solve problems concerning water quality and availability.

Duties of Hydrologists

Hydrologists typically do the following:

  • Measure the properties of bodies of water, such as volume and stream flow
  • Collect water and soil samples to test for certain properties, such as the pH or pollution levels
  • Analyze data on the environmental impacts of pollution, erosion, drought, and other problems
  • Research ways to minimize the negative impacts of erosion, sedimentation, or pollution on the environment
  • Use computer models to forecast future water supplies, the spread of pollution, floods, and other events
  • Evaluate the feasibility of water-related projects, such as hydroelectric power plants, irrigation systems, and wastewater treatment facilities
  • Prepare written reports and presentations of their findings

Hydrologists may use remote sensing equipment to collect data. They, or technicians whom they supervise, usually install and maintain this equipment. Hydrologists also use sophisticated computer programs to analyze the data collected. Computer models are often developed by hydrologists to help them understand complex datasets.

Hydrologists work closely with engineers, scientists, and public officials to study and manage the water supply. For example, they work with policymakers to develop water conservation plans and with biologists to monitor wildlife in order to allow for their water needs.

Most hydrologists specialize in a particular water source or a certain aspect of the water cycle, such as the evaporation of water from lakes and streams. The following are examples of types of hydrologists:

Groundwater hydrologists study the water below the Earth's surface. Some groundwater hydrologists focus on water supply and decide the best locations for wells and the amount of water available for pumping. Other groundwater hydrologists focus on the cleanup of groundwater contaminated by spilled chemicals at a factory, an airport, or a gas station. These hydrologists often give advice about the best places to build waste disposal sites to ensure that groundwater is not contaminated.

Surface water hydrologists study water from aboveground sources such as streams, lakes, and snowpacks. They may predict future water levels by tracking usage and precipitation data to help reservoir managers decide when to release or store water. They also produce flood forecasts and help develop flood management plans.

Work done by hydrologists can sometimes include topics typically associated with atmospheric scientists, including meteorologists. Scientists with an education in hydrology and a concentration in water quality are environmental scientists and specialists. Some people with a hydrology background become high school teachers or postsecondary teachers.

Work Environment for Hydrologists[About this section] [To Top]

Hydrologists hold about 6,800 jobs. The largest employers of hydrologists are as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 26%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 22%
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 20%
Engineering services 13%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 11%

Hydrologists work in offices and in the field. In offices, hydrologists spend much their time using computers to analyze data and model their findings. In the field, hydrologists may have to wade into lakes and streams to collect samples or to read and inspect monitoring equipment. Hydrologists also need to write reports detailing the status of surface water and groundwater in specific regions. Many jobs require significant travel. Jobs in the private sector may require international travel.

Hydrologist Work Schedules

Most hydrologists work full time. However, the length of daily shifts may vary when hydrologists work in the field.

How to Become a Hydrologist[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Hydrologists near you!

Hydrologists need at least a bachelor's degree for entry-level positions; however, some workers begin their careers with a master's degree.

Education for Hydrologists

Hydrologists need at least a bachelor's degree, and some begin their careers with a master's degree. Applicants for advanced research and university faculty positions typically need a Ph.D.

Few universities offer undergraduate degrees in hydrology; instead, most universities offer hydrology concentrations in their geosciences, engineering, or earth science programs. Students interested in becoming hydrologists need to complete coursework in math, statistics, and physical, computer, and life sciences. Hydrologists may find it helpful to have a background in economics, environmental law, and other government policy related topics. Knowledge of these areas may help hydrologists communicate with and understand the goals of policymakers and other government workers.

Important Qualities for Hydrologists

Analytical skills. Hydrologists need to analyze data collected in the field and examine the results of laboratory tests.

Communication skills. Hydrologists prepare detailed reports that document their research methods and findings. They may have to present their findings to people who do not have a technical background, such as government officials or the general public.

Critical-thinking skills. Hydrologists develop and use models to assess the potential risks to the water supply by pollution, floods, droughts, and other threats. They develop water management plans to handle these threats.

Interpersonal skills. Most hydrologists work as part of a diverse team with engineers, technicians, and other scientists.

Physical stamina. When they are in the field, hydrologists may need to hike to remote locations while carrying testing and sampling equipment.

Hydrologist Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for hydrologists is $84,030. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $51,120, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $135,170.

The median annual wages for hydrologists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Management, scientific, and technical consulting services $99,340
Engineering services $95,770
Federal government, excluding postal service $92,130
Local government, excluding education and hospitals $82,440
State government, excluding education and hospitals $73,300

Most hydrologists work full time. However, the length of daily shifts may vary when hydrologists work in the field.

Job Outlook for Hydrologists[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of hydrologists is projected to show little or no change over the next ten years.

About 600 openings for hydrologists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment of Hydrologists

Demand for the services of hydrologists will stem from ongoing human activities such as mining, construction, and hydraulic fracturing. Environmental concerns, especially global climate change that may contribute to flooding and drought, are likely to increase demand for these scientists. Hydrologists will be needed to assess threats to local, state, and national water supplies and to develop comprehensive water management plans. However, the development and use of integrated technology and review systems may limit the need for some hydrologists.

Population expansion into areas that were previously uninhabited also may increase the risk of flooding, and new communities may encounter water availability issues. Although governments value hydrologists' expertise in finding sustainable solutions to managing water resources, budget constraints will limit hiring and impact growth.

Employment projections data for Hydrologists, 2021-31
Occupational Title Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31
Percent Numeric
Hydrologists 6,800 6,700 0 -100


A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.


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