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What is a Hydrologist and How to Become One

written by: R. Elizabeth C. Kitchen•edited by: Laurie Patsalides•updated: 1/9/2011

Will discuss what a hydrologist is and how to become one.

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    A hydrologist examines the distribution, circulation, and physical characteristics of water below and above the earth's surface. The study precipitation, such as rainfall, precipitation's path through underground rocks and soil, and its return to the air and oceans. Ultimately, hydrologists work with water.

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    Working Conditions

    Hydrologists, particularly those new to the field, will spend a lot of time working on site at a variety of locations. The fieldwork can be strenuous, uncomfortable, and in some cases, risky. They will work outdoors in all weather conditions, work in remote areas, wade in a variety of water bodies, carry heavy equipment, and walk across long stretches of rough terrain. They typically work 40 hours a week, but overtime is often required. Hydrologists will also often find themselves traveling long distances for work.

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    Education and Training

    Possessing a Master's degree related to hydrology is strongly recommended, but a Bachelor's degree is the minimum. Related degrees include geology, agricultural engineering, geophysics, forestry, soil science, and civil engineering. Aspiring hydrologists will take courses in the following subjects: chemistry, meteorology, physics, hydraulics, calculus, hydrology, and water quality.

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    Getting the Job

    Those seeking employment in hydrology can look in their local newspapers and trade publications for job vacancies. State and federal job placement agencies can assist those seeking to break into this field obtain leads and information about the hydrology industry. College placement offices, particularly those associated with the university an aspiring hydrologist attended, can help them find employment opportunities. Candidates can also inquire directly with hydrology firms.

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    Career Outlook and Salary

    The median annual salary for hydrologists is $61,510.00. Employment in this field is expected to grow rapidly now through 2014. With the growing number of environmental regulations and laws, there will be a growing need for hydrologists. Most will begin their career in the field and then as they advance their education and gain more experience they can advance to project directors, supervisors, college professors, industrial consultants, or agency administrators.

    Those working for the federal government, most often with a Master's degree or higher, have the best earning potential with a median annual salary of $77,182.00. Those with a Bachelor's degree can expect a median annual salary of $32,828.00.