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What Hydrologists Do

Hydrologists study water and the water cycle. They study the movement, distribution, and other properties of water, and they analyze how these influence the surrounding environment. They use their expertise to solve problems concerning water quality and availability, for example.


Hydrologists typically do the following:

Hydrologists use remote sensing equipment to collect data. They or technicians whom they supervise usually install and maintain this equipment.

They also use sophisticated computer programs to analyze and model data. They use sophisticated laboratory equipment to analyze chemical samples collected in the field.

Hydrologists work closely with engineers, scientists, and public officials to study and manage the water supply. For example, they work with policy makers to develop water conservation plans and with biologists to monitor marine wildlife.

Most hydrologists specialize in a specific water source or a certain aspect of the water cycle, such as the evaporation of water from lakes and streams. Some of the most common specialties are:

Groundwater hydrologists study the water below the Earth’s surface. They decide the best locations for wells and the amount of water that should be pumped. They are often consulted about the best places to build waste disposal sites to ensure that the waste does not contaminate the groundwater.

Hydrometeorologists study the relationship between surface waters and water in the atmosphere. For example, to predict and prepare for droughts, they study how much rain or snow a particular area gets and how that evaporates.

Surface water hydrologists study water from above ground sources such as streams, lakes, and snow packs. They may predict future water levels and usage to help reservoir managers decide when to release or store water. They also produce flood forecasts and help develop flood management plans.

Some people with a hydrology background become professors or teachers. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition