As a hydrogeologist, you'll make a significant contribution to the environment by working to better protect and manage groundwater resources

Hydrogeologists study the distribution, flow and quality of water underground (as opposed to hydrologists who are primarily concerned with surface water).

They interpret technical data and information from maps and historical documents, to build a conceptual model of groundwater flow and quality. They also design and complete investigations, which may include environmental measurement and sampling; and use modelling techniques to enable predictions to be made about future trends and impacts on groundwater flow and quality.

Responsibilities

As a hydrogeologist, you'll need to:

  • apply a knowledge of fundamental geology to develop an understanding of how rock types and structure in an area impact on groundwater occurrence and movement
  • understand and interpret maps, geographical data, historical evidence and models to build up a picture of the groundwater regime and/or land contamination, often based on incomplete information
  • use computers to model groundwater flow, chemistry and temperature according to geological formations, surface water flow and man-made influence
  • undertake field work and site visits for investigative and monitoring purposes
  • design and commission boreholes, and sample and measure groundwater and surface water
  • undertake environment impact assessments of groundwater abstraction and management activities
  • analyse collected information, to assess and predict the impact of activities such as landfills, construction developments and mining or agriculture, on groundwater quality and resource availability
  • liaise with other hydrogeologists, hydrologists, ecologists, engineers and other professionals in related fields
  • ensure compliance with environmental legislation and keep up to date with technological and legislative developments
  • write reports for clients, which can be understood by people who don't necessarily have a technical background
  • answer technical queries and provide advice to clients and the public in writing and over the telephone
  • manage projects and contractors
  • work within health and safety guidelines.

Hydrogeologists working for charities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) overseas may be involved in:

  • finding new water supplies for remote villages or refugee camps
  • siting new wells
  • testing water quality
  • protecting water supplies from pollution
  • de-contaminating wells.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for hydrogeologists with a relevant Masters degree can be up to £25,000 per year.
  • Salaries for hydrogeologists with around five years' experience, typically range from £30,000 to £40,000 per year.
  • Experienced professionals and managers may earn in excess of this.

Salaries tend to be higher in private companies and consultancies than in the public sector.

Additional benefits may include a company car, medical insurance and a pension scheme.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours tend to be 9am to 5pm in the public sector, but longer for those working in the private sector. Long working hours may be required during field work, at busy periods or when deadlines are approaching.

Weekend working is unusual. Flexitime and part-time work is available with some employers.

What to expect

  • Work is typically office based, but site visits and field work can form an essential aspect of the work, especially within consultancy. These can take place throughout the year and in all weather conditions. Site visits may be in remote and hard-to-reach areas. Some roles have an element of laboratory work.
  • Experienced hydrogeologists may become self-employed as a consultant once they have built up a background of experience and a good reputation.
  • Hydrogeologists work throughout the UK in a range of sectors, and opportunities are available in all parts of the country.
  • Travel is typical within the working day, and there may be occasional overnight absences from home.
  • There are opportunities for overseas work.

Qualifications

A good first degree in geology, environmental science, geophysics, science or engineering, with a postgraduate qualification (Masters or PhD) in hydrogeology, geochemistry, engineering, geology or environmental science is usually required.

HND or foundation degree holders may find employment in technician-level roles with some employers.

Entry without a degree, HND or foundation degree is not possible due to the scientifically-challenging nature of the work.

Employers generally expect a Masters degree in hydrogeology or a related subject that includes groundwater, particularly those recruiting for international vacancies. Search for postgraduate courses in hydrogeology.

If you have a relevant first degree, your employer may support you to study at postgraduate level.

Relevant courses offered at MSc level include:

Skills

You will need to show:

  • an excellent level of numeracy
  • scientific knowledge across the range of disciplines
  • mathematical modelling skills
  • the ability to visualise geology and conceptualise groundwater flow in three dimensions
  • the skill of drawing conclusions from incomplete information
  • the capacity to evaluate complex data
  • project management skills
  • an organised and flexible approach to work
  • commercial awareness
  • the ability to work well within a team
  • oral and written communication skills, including report writing
  • IT skills
  • a driving licence - this is often a requirement as you will need to visit different sites.

Work experience

Relevant work experience is a major advantage. This can be summer work, industry projects or voluntary activities.

You should try to gain experience in a range of geological or environmental organisations, such as the Environment Agency (EA), as opportunities for work experience purely in hydrogeology can be hard to find.

Employers

Hydrogeologists are employed in a range of sectors. Typical employers include:

  • environmental and engineering consultancies, ranging from those with just a few employees to those with several hundred, working for private clients and governments both in the UK and overseas
  • research organisations, e.g. the British Geological Survey (BGS), the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH)
  • government regulators, e.g. the Environment Agency (EA), the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA)
  • water supply companies, especially those that use groundwater as a major part of their water supply
  • mining or quarrying organisations whose work may have an impact on, or require the management of, groundwater
  • the nuclear industry
  • waste disposal companies that operate landfill facilities
  • other large industries that have significant contaminated land issues, e.g. pharmaceuticals, steel, and chemical
  • universities with specialist courses, for specific academic research and lecturing posts
  • renewable energy companies and organisations, where the evaluation of renewable-energy schemes and ground-source heat schemes is needed
  • overseas aid organisations that are developing safe water supplies in developing countries.

Look for job vacancies at:

For a list of organisations that employ hydrogeologists in the UK see the UK Groundwater Forum.

Speculative applications can be effective. Business directories are also useful for sourcing potential employers.

Professional development

You could apply for a place on a graduate training scheme. The larger engineering and environmental consultancies run these and they help to develop the wider skills necessary for a career as a hydrogeologist - complementing the technical skills you will have learnt during your degree.

Most organisations will provide induction training. This will involve some time shadowing more experienced colleagues. On-the-job training and external courses are also provided throughout your career in order to keep you up to date with new technologies and developments within the industry.

Membership of a professional body is useful in terms of training, networking and continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities. Professional bodies in this sector include the:

Further study at Masters or PhD level is possible and some employers may support this. Many employers will encourage you to become chartered with a relevant professional body. You will need to show that you regularly undertake a range of CPD activities and have relevant experience at a specific level.

Career prospects

It will help advance your career if you become chartered with a relevant professional body. Most commonly this is with the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM). Those with a geology degree may choose to follow the chartership route via the Geological Society.

There are opportunities for a varied career within hydrogeology, both in the UK and overseas. Career progression is dependent on skills and ability, but can be fast within groundwater specialisms. You will need to regularly undertake a range of continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities.

It is possible to progress into team leader positions that involve making decisions about planning and use of resources, as well as managing people. Opportunity for technical progression is significant and leads to a specialist role, sharing knowledge and experience of a specific aspect of geoscience with colleagues.

Some hydrogeologists move careers into environmental policy development, or into the energy sector where they may, for example, be concerned with the use of groundwater for thermal regulation and nuclear waste disposal. They may also investigate and advise on the interaction of groundwater and surface water and its role in flooding.