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Hydrologists study how water moves across and through the Earth’s crust. They can use their expertise to solve problems in the areas of water quality or availability.

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 also use geographic information systems (GIS) and global positioning system (GPS) equipment to do their jobs.

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 to allow for their water needs.

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. The following are examples of types of hydrologists:

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

Surface water hydrologists study water from above ground sources such as streams, lakes, and snow packs. 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.

Scientists with an education in hydrology who concentrate their efforts in the area of water quality are environmental scientists and specialists. 
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Hydrologists typically have an interest in the Doer and Thinker interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Doer interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinker interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws.

If you are not sure whether you have a Doer or Thinker interest which might fit with a career as a hydrologist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Hydrologists should also possess the following specific qualities:

Analytical skills. Hydrologists need to analyse 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 assess the risks posed 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.
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