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Hydrologists study the dynamic nature of water, for example the forces that cause water to move in the environment and what effects this movement has. They examine issues such as precipitation pathways, the relationship between rainfall and runoff, and the effects of precipitation on soils and various landscapes. They are also involved in projects to determine and promote sustainable usage of water sources to conserve supplies. Hydrologists play a critical role in protecting Canada’s water resources.
At a glanceImagine you are standing in a new, exclusive residential development high on a ridge overlooking the river valley. You are a hydrologist for an environmental consulting firm that has been hired by the City to study the impact of residential development on the local environment. With the success of this community, dozens of developers have approached the City for permits to build more houses along the ridge. Before the City approves more building in the area, it wants to make certain this community isn't negatively affecting the environment, particularly the river's water quality. The City has hired your firm's team of geologists, biologists, toxicologists, and hydrologists. As the team's lead hydrologist, you will be responsible for monitoring and evaluating water quality around the area to detect any changes that might be a result of this new community. As a hydrologist, you specialize in the physical, biological, and chemical characteristics of water. How urbanization affects water resources, is one of your particular interests, making this project very exciting. First, you identify issues that might arise from a residential development, for example contamination in surface runoff. The houses along the ridge all have yards that slope toward the valley, so when it rains, excess rainwater flows into the river. As part of your study, you will collect samples of the surface runoff to analyze water quality. You're concerned that the runoff might pick up hazardous chemicals from the development and carry them into the river. For example, each lot has a well-tended backyard, which often means the lawns and flowerbeds are treated with pesticides and chemical fertilizers. These chemicals can be picked up by rainwater and carried in runoff to the river. Area homeowners also use the river for recreation, so the river will be monitored carefully to make certain rafters, swimmers, and sport fishers aren't negatively affecting water quality. Your evaluation of the development's impact on area water quality will be a significant part of the team's report to the City and will help planners make wise decisions with respect to further residential development.
Job dutiesDuties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as a hydrologist:
- Monitor water supply and usage.
- Contribute to the planning of water resource development by forecasting and monitoring water usage and precipitation levels.
- Use computer models to determine the most effective ways of managing available water in particular areas.
- Analyze the effects of environmental and land-use changes on water flow.
- Respond to water flow situations, for example droughts and floods, and evaluate different methods to address issues.
- Measure water levels and collect ground and surface water samples.
- Ensure water quality is monitored and concerns are being met.
- Conduct climate impact studies with respect to various hydrological applications.
- Coordinate and supervise the work of technicians, technologists, and students.
- Prepare technical reports and studies.
Work environmentHydrologists work in a variety of locations, including: In the field:
- Collecting samples and recording data
- Setting up meteorological and hydrological stations
- Conducting field experiments
- Analyzing data and preparing reports
- Interpreting hydrological data
- Creating and utilizing computer models
- Conducting research and designing experiments
- Communicating on the phone and in meetings with clients, colleagues, government departments, and the public
- Processing and analyzing samples
- Conducting bench experiments
Where to workThere are a number of places hydrologists can find employment. They include:
- Environmental and engineering consulting firms
- Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
- Colleges, universities, and research institutes
- Not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations
Education & requirementsIf you are a high school student considering a career as a hydrologist, you should have strong marks or an interest in:
- Computer Science
- Environmental Science
- Marine Biology
- Soil Science
- Terrain and Water
- Water Resources