Geoscientists and Hydrologists


The study of geosciences involves the examination of the earth’s physical aspects, including rock composition and processes of rock formation. Underneath the generic heading of geoscientist reside a number of specific scientific specializations, including paleontologist, geologist, and geophysicists.

Depending on the employer, a geoscientist is responsible for collecting field samples of ground or rock, conducting laboratory testing, analyzing aerial photographs, and reporting on their findings to colleagues. Geoscientists may spend weeks at a time in the field, especially if they’ve embarked on a research and development trip for an employer to scout natural resources. The laboratory setting is another place frequented by professional geoscientists.

Skills for successful geoscientists include advanced communicative skills, application of the scientific method, critical thinking and time management. Geoscientists must also be very familiar with different types of technology, including computer-aided design software and laboratory testing equipment. Careers in the geosciences are largely independent and rely on measurable achievement for advancement into better paying positions.


Hydrologists are more concerned with the properties of water and the water cycle process across the earth. They’re mainly involved with studying the distribution of water, movement patterns for bodies of water and other ways that water’s properties influence the surrounding environment. The term “hydrologist” can be broken down further into groundwater hydrologists, hydro-meteorologists and surface water hydrologists. These professions study the properties of water underground, in the atmosphere and at the earth’s surface, respectively.

The duties of a hydrologist include measuring volume and flow of bodies of water, collecting and analyzing water samples as well as developing computer models to communicate findings. A hydrology professional will conduct field research by visiting a site to study, leaving sensory equipment and monitoring the results from an offsite location.

Hydrologists must develop many of the same skills needed to serve successfully as a geoscientist, although the ability to monitor sensory equipment remotely through wireless data systems takes on more importance. Many of the same scientific methods are also necessary to analyze water samples and report findings effectively. In the field, hydrologists have to be willing to wade through various masses of water to collect samples and install sensory equipment.


A bachelor’s degree is the minimum certification requirement for most jobs in the geosciences, but a master’s level is quickly becoming the next entry-level requirement, especially for hydrologists. Full degrees in the geosciences are typically more available than hydrology, which is often chosen as a concentration within the geosciences. Degree programs in the geosciences focus on several core subjects within the topic of geology, including geochemistry, petrology and geochemistry.Topics studied in hydrology programs include hydro-geology, watershed processes, aquatic biology and stream ecology.

Any degree program in either the geosciences or hydrology will focus extensively on the subjects of math, computer science, life science, physical science, and statistics. Some states require geoscientists and hydrologists to pass a licensing examination in order to practice professionally or work for an employer.

Many professional employment opportunities in these fields are available through academic institutions. Fellowships offered to recent graduates are viewed as an extension of the training received by the student from school, but these positions usually come with a stipend. This stipend may be many thousands of dollars over the course of the fellowship. Geoscientists and hydrologists interested in pursuing an academic career as a college professor will first need to pursue a Ph.D. level degree.

Career entrants who possess the best knowledge of technology recently adapted into geologic or hydrologic study will have better career opportunities. Thorough research of a collegiate program is necessary to ensure that you’ll be given access to the most up-to-date equipment available.

Career Opportunities

The majority of geoscientists working in America are split between three major employer groups. Of the approximately 33,800 American geoscientists working in 2010, twenty-two percent work for architectural and engineering firms, nineteen percent work for oil & gas extraction employers, and fourteen percent work for scientific consultation firms. The oil and gas industry in Texas employs about thirty percent of all geoscientists.

A larger percentage of hydrologists, by contrast, work for public entities. As of 2010, half of the 7,600 hydrologists employed in the United States worked for public government entities, thirty percent working solely for the federal government. The remainder worked for scientific consulting firms and architectural and engineering firms.

Average salaries for geoscientists climbed steadily through the 2000s, eclipsing $80,000 per year by 2009. Geoscientists working for oil and gas extraction firms can earn salaries much higher than this; in 2010, the median salary for these workers was $125,350. Salaries for hydrologists were more modest than this, but the 2010 median salary still eclipsed $75,000 per year. This was about $30,000 more than the median wage for all American occupations in that year.

Job outlook forecasts released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that job opportunities for geoscientists and hydrologists will each increase by about twenty percent, although growth will be slightly faster for geoscientist positions. Much of this growth is spurred by the need for effective resource management for upcoming generations. Private geoscientist job opportunities are typically tied to the price of oil and gas; if companies can charge more for these resources, more geoscientists are employed. Budget constraints are expected to reduce job opportunities within state and local governments, one of the reasons hydrologist openings will increase more slowly.

Additional Resources

Texas Board of Professional Geoscientists – Professional association of geoscientists in largest state of employment.

The Geological Society of America – Links to foundations, associations and other resources on the geosciences and hydrology.

Association for Women Geoscientists – Professional society for females in the field of professional geosciences.

American Association of Petroleum Geoscientists – Professional association for geoscientists in oil and gas industry.

International Association of Hydrological Sciences – Professional association coordinated by the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics.