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Geoscientists and Hydrologists - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Geoscientists and hydrologists often begin their careers in field exploration or as research assistants or technicians in laboratories or offices. As they gain experience, they take on more complex and difficult assignments. Eventually, some are promoted to project leader, program manager, or to a senior research position. Those who choose to work in management will spend more time scheduling, budgeting, and reporting to top executives or clients.

Geoscientists held about 33,600 jobs in 2008, while another 8,100 were employed as hydrologists. Many more individuals held geoscience faculty positions in colleges and universities, but they are classified as college and university faculty.

About 23 percent of geoscientists were employed in architectural, engineering, and related services and 19 percent worked for oil and gas extraction companies. State agencies such as State geological surveys and State departments of conservation employed another 9 percent of geoscientists. Eight percent worked for the Federal Government, including geologists, geophysicists, and oceanographers, mostly within the U.S. Department of the Interior for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and within the U.S. Department of Defense.

Among hydrologists, 26 percent were employed in architectural, engineering, and related services, and 19 percent worked for management, scientific, and technical consulting services. The Federal Government employed about 27 percent of hydrologists, mostly within the U.S. Department of the Interior for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and within the U.S. Department of Defense.

Job Outlook
Employment of geoscientists and hydrologists is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations. Graduates with a master's degree in geoscience can expect excellent job opportunities, but Ph.D.s may face competition for research and college teaching jobs.

Job Growth
Employment growth of 18 percent is expected for geoscientists and hydrologists between 2008 and 2018, which is faster than the average for all occupations. The need for energy, environmental protection, and responsible land and water management will spur employment demand. Employment in management, scientific, and technical consulting services should continue to grow as more geoscientists work as consultants. These services have increased their hiring of geoscientists in recent years because of increased government contracting and private corporations' need for technical assistance and environmental management plans. Moreover, many geoscientists and hydrologists monitor the quality of the environment, checking for problems such as deteriorating coastal environments and soil and water contamination—all of which will create employment growth for them. An expected increase in highway building and other infrastructure projects will also be a source of jobs for engineering geologists.

Many geoscientists work in the exploration and production of oil and gas. Historically, employment of petroleum geoscientists has been cyclical and affected considerably by the price of oil and gas. When prices are low, oil and gas producers curtail exploration activities and may lay off geologists. When prices are high, companies have the funds and incentive to renew exploration efforts and to hire geoscientists in larger numbers. In the long term, continued high oil prices are expected to maintain demand for workers who can find new resource deposits. Geoscientists who speak a foreign language and who are willing to work abroad should enjoy the best opportunities, as the need for energy, construction materials, and a broad range of geoscience expertise grows in developing nations.

Demand for hydrologists should also be strong as the population increases and moves to more environmentally sensitive locations. As people increasingly migrate toward coastal regions, for example, hydrologists will be needed to assess building sites for potential geologic hazards and to mitigate the effects of natural hazards such as floods, landslides, and hurricanes. Hydrologists also will be needed to study hazardous-waste sites and determine the effect of pollutants on soil and ground water so that engineers can design remediation systems. Increased government regulations, such as those regarding the management of storm water, and issues related to water conservation, deteriorating coastal environments, and rising sea levels also will stimulate employment growth for these workers.

Graduates with a master's degree in geoscience should have excellent opportunities, especially in consulting firms and in the oil and gas industry. In addition to demand resulting from job growth, replacing those who leave the occupation for retirement, managerial positions, or other careers will generate a number of jobs. A significant number of geoscientists are approaching retirement age, and without increases in the number of students earning master's degrees in the geosciences, job openings may exceed the number of qualified jobseekers over the 2008-18 projection period. However, geoscientists with doctoral degrees, who primarily work as college and university faculty or do research, may face competition. There are few openings for new graduates with only a bachelor's degree in geoscience, but these graduates may have favorable opportunities in related occupations, such as high school science teacher or science technician.

Job prospects for hydrologists should be favorable, particularly for those with field experience. Demand for hydrologists who understand both the scientific and engineering aspects of waste remediation should be strong.

There will be fewer opportunities for geoscientists and hydrologists in Federal and State government, mostly because of budget constraints at key agencies, such as the U.S. Geological Service, and the trend among governments toward contracting out to consulting firms instead of hiring new government employees. However, departures of geoscientists who retire or leave the government for other reasons will result in some job openings over the next decade.

Geoscientists may face layoffs during periods of economic recession, but the prices of commodities are a much more important source of volatility; for those working in the oil and gas or mining industries, the cyclical nature of commodity prices determines demand. When prices are high, jobs are plentiful, but when prices fall, positions become scarce.

Median annual wages of geoscientists were $79,160 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $54,470 and $113,390; the lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,700, and the highest 10 percent more than $155,430.

The petroleum, mineral, and mining industries offer higher salaries, but less job security, than other industries because economic downturns sometimes cause layoffs.

Median annual wages of hydrologists were $71,450 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $54,910 and $89,200; the lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,410, and the highest 10 percent more than $105,010.

In March 2009, the Federal Government's average salary was $94,085 for geologists, $108,118 for geophysicists, $89,404 for hydrologists, and $105,671 for oceanographers.

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