Hydrogeologists are expert scientists who specialise in the study of groundwater. These clever people monitor and analyse the movement, distribution and quality of water below the earth’s surface in an attempt to maintain, conserve and manage these incredibly valuable resources.
Hydrogeologists spend a large part of their time out in the field collecting data on all kinds of hydrogeological properties, from porosity and hydrodynamic dispersion to molecular diffusion and hydraulic conductivity.
As part of this process, hydrogeologists are responsible for organising the drilling of boreholes so that groundwater samples can be taken. They also use less invasive techniques and equipment to collect data, such as geographical information systems (GIS).
Once they have conducted their investigations, hydrogeologists spend their time in a laboratory or office analysing, evaluating and unravelling the data that they have collected.
They are then tasked with presenting the data in a concise and accessible manner. This process usually involves writing reports and using advanced computer software to model groundwater flow and geological structures.
These digital models and reports are then used to assess the impact of proposed construction work, agricultural developments and mining projects on groundwater resources. This is vital in the prevention of human activity which might have a detrimental effect on the environment.
Hydrogeologists can also work abroad for water charities, such as WaterAid, where they will be locating groundwater resources in communities that have been affected by devastating droughts or diseases caused by contaminated water supplies. This work is vital for the production of pumps and wells, which will provide people with fresh, clean water, thereby saving countless lives.
Salary & benefits
Entry-level hydrogeologists tend to earn between £19,000 and £24,000 per annum, while experienced hydrogeologists can earn anywhere between £28,000 and £47,000.
Some senior hydrogeologists with managerial responsibilities can earn up to £65,000 a year.
Hydrogeologists typically work five days a week, nine-to-five. However, you may be required to work longer hours from time to time to meet project deadlines.
Travelling, both domestically and internationally, is a regular occurrence for most hydrogeologists.
A large part of your professional life will also be spent in the great outdoors, so be prepared to work in all kinds of weather.
To enter this line of work, you will need an undergraduate degree in a scientific or engineering subject and a postgraduate degree in a relevant subject, such as hydrogeology, environmental geoscience, geology, or geochemistry.
Only a handful of universities offer postgraduate courses in hydrogeology. Check out our Courses section to find out more.
If you complete an HND in a relevant subject, you may be able to enter this line of work in a junior technician role; however, you will need to complete further study before you can progress up the career ladder.
Another way to boost your employability is volunteering with an environmental organisation. This will give you fantastic hands-on experience and enable you to build up a network of useful contacts.
Training & progression
Many hydrogeologists start their career as a part of a graduate scheme with prominent environmental consultancies and engineering firms. If you are accepted onto a graduate scheme, the majority of your training will be done whilst on the job under the supervision of a senior hydrogeologist.
As part of your training programme, you may be given the opportunity to complete an MSc in hydrogeology if you haven’t already got one. This will be fully-funded by your organisation and it’s likely that you will be granted study leave in the lead up to exams.
From time to time, you may also be required to attend training courses run by external organisations, such as the International Association of Hydrogeologists (IAH), to keep up-to-date with all the latest techniques and technologies.
Once you have gained a wealth of experience you might think about becoming a chartered hydrogeologist courtesy of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM). This can be great for the purposes of career progression.
If you work for a large organisation, you may eventually be given the opportunity to progress into a senior hydrogeologist position. However, this may mean taking a step back from hands-on scientific investigation work and focusing your efforts more on project management and team leading responsibilities.
Some people decide to specialise in a particular area of hydrogeology, such as groundwater engineering.
Alternatively, you might have the opportunity to develop an academic career, where you’ll conduct research and teach the next generation of hydrogeologists.
Freelance consultancy work is another option.