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Careers in Hydrology

What Is Hydrology?

Hydrology is the study of the movement, distribution, and quality of water on the earth’s surface and in soils and rocks.

What Do Hydrologists Do?

Hydrologists monitor and manage water. Hydrologists come from a range of disciplines, including earth or environmental science, physical geography, or civil and environmental engineering.

A hydrologist’s activities might include:

Hydrometric Monitoring and Water Quality Measurement

  • Maintaining monitoring networks to record river flows, water levels in rivers, lakes and groundwater and rainfall

  • Measuring water quality parameters and collecting water samples for water quality analysis

Process Studies

  • Investigating patterns of rainfall and other forms of precipitation

  • ​The study of ice, snow and glaciers

  • ​ Modelling river flow processes, including water quality

  • ​Investigating how rainfall becomes river flow

  • ​Dating or aging water resource


  • Analysing droughts and floods, including statistical analysis of flood and drought risk

  • Investigating the causes of flooding and identifying possible solutions

  • Evaluating the consequences of land-use change

  • Developing models of hydrological processes and systems

  • Exploring the impact of climate change on water resources, flooding and drought

  • ​Consulting with water resources users and proposing policies for water conservation or allocation.

Who do Hydrologists work for?

Hydrologists Work for a Range of Organisations, Including:

Central Government


Ministry for the Environment, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Economic Development

Core Activities:

Developing policies for managing water resources

Regional & Local Government


Environment Southland, Environment Bay of Plenty, Gisborne City Council, Tasman District Council, Hamilton City Council

Core Activities:

Developing policies, measuring and managing water resources and providing water supply services


Core Activities:

Providing services in engineering, environmental management and assessment



Supervising graduate research and training

Core Activities:

Undertaking teaching and research

Crown Research Institutes


NIWA, Landcare Research, GNS, ESR

Core Activities:

Government-owned environmental research and consulting agencies

What Education and Training do Hydrologists Need?

There are no undergraduate or first degree courses majoring in hydrology itself. However, hydrology courses are available as part of programmes in physical geography, earth sciences, environmental science and civil and environmental engineering. Graduates of these programmes can expect to have a basic understanding of hydrological concepts and principles and transferable skills (e.g. report writing, fieldwork experience, research design, critical thinking etc).

Detailed training in hydrology is available either through further study or ‘on the job’ training. There is no substitute for ‘on the job’ training in hydrology, gained through finding solutions to real problems. Short courses are provided by numerous institutes in New Zealand. They are typically 3-7 days in length and are available on a variety of topics, such as groundwater modelling and flood statistical analysis.

Postgraduate study typically includes a thesis or research component. A Masters degree in New Zealand will generally include taught courses and a research component. Most MSc programs are general, with the opportunity to complete 1-2 hydrology courses along side other courses. PhD programmes in New Zealand are 100 % research and a minimum of 3 years study.

There are many hydrology papers available in NZ tertiary institutions. These papers can be placed within many different course structures, and university calendars and departmental handbooks should be consulted for comprehensive and up to date information on courses.

Field Hydrology or Hydrometry

Most hydrological investigations rely on the availability of observed hydrometric data. As a field hydrologist, you can play a direct role in providing high-quality datasets. Typical tasks undertaken in the field by hydrologist working on behalf of regional councils or CRIs include: inspection and maintenance of existing structures and devices for measuring surface water, groundwater levels, rainfall; supervising the installation of new measuring equipment; calibration of hydrometric equipment (e.g. water level recorders); retrieval and quality control of hydrometric data. During flood events, you may be asked to undertake current meter gaugings to assist with the development and verification of stage-discharge relationships. After floods, you may also be required to ascertain peak water levels.

Water Resource Management

In New Zealand, regional councils are charged with managing water resources and jobs include resource consent processing, planning and policy development. Informing and consulting local residents on proposed resource consent applications, plans or policies may be an important component of your job. You may be required to attend public hearings or the environment court and negotiate the rules and regulations for the use and protection of lakes, streams, rivers, or aquifers. Postgraduate qualifications which include advanced hydrology with some resource management courses would be helpful for gaining a water resource management position.



As a consultant you will need to be flexible, mobile and be accustomed to a diverse range of projects and clients. Depending on the nature of your assignment, you may be working alone or as part of a large multi-disciplinary team. Your technical input may be small or extensive and you may required to work on site


Research is carried out by hydrologists in a range of organisations, including Crown Research Institutes, universities and regional councils. Collaborative work, both within New Zealand and overseas, is a key feature of a research hydrologist’s career. You would be expected to share knowledge and ideas amongst your colleagues and with external organisations. Your advice or opinion might be sought when key decisions need to be made. Your research will extend the boundaries of the current understanding of hydrological processes, providing new methodologies, modelling techniques and tools. Most hydrologists entering this field of employment with have a postgraduate research degree.

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