Since she was little, when asked what career she might like to pursue, my daughter has always proclaimed with glee, “I want to be an engineer!” Upon participating in Wow! these past couple of years, she has learned of the variety of engineering fields and her answer evolved, “… an environmental, architectural, electrical engineer.” To be honest, I am not quite sure she knows for certain, but I love that her interest has never swayed.
To help her to understand the diversity of career options, we recently had an opportunity to visit an acquaintance who owns a hydrogeology firm locally. Today, I would like to share with you some of the things we learned during our visit as well as explore the career options in hydrogeology.
Hydrogeology is the area of geology that deals with the distribution and movement of groundwater in the soil and rocks of the Earth’s crust (commonly in aquifers). Hydrogeology is an interdisciplinary subject and as such, it can be difficult to account fully for the chemical, physical, biological and even legal interactions between soil, water, nature and society.
Essentially, hydrogeologists study of the interaction between groundwater movement and geology. Groundwater does not always flow in the subsurface down-hill following the surface topography. Groundwater flows along gradients from high pressure to low pressure and hydrogeologists need to understand several diverse fields at both the experimental and theoretical levels.
During our visit, the engineers shared with us the tools of the trade and anecdotes of specific jobs they had had experience with recently. We were surprised to learn that much of their work (at least at this office) was related to landfills.
While geologists in the energy and mineral industries face are generally susceptible to rise and fall of the economy, those who study the movement and chemistry of water seeping through rocks and sediment find demand for their expertise steady.
“I can’t think of any unemployed hydrogeologists,” says Roy Haggerty, an associate professor of hydrogeology at Oregon State University, Corvallis. Water is essential, irreplaceable, and, as populations and economies grow, increasingly in demand and endangered.
The work of a hydrogeologist can vary considerably according to the sector, employer and area of specialism. Hydrogeologists can oversee the cleanup of spills and contamination. They work with experts who specialize in geology, wastewater, water supply, waste management, soils, and organizations that know how to clean up pollution or contamination. They may also help with designs for new facilities to help prevent future contamination.
Environmental consulting companies employ about 80% of hydrogeologists in the United States. New niches open regularly as hydrogeologists collaborate with scientists in other disciplines to tackle huge environmental challenges, such as forecasting how changing climate will affect water resources and aquatic life.
Our visit to the hydrogeology office was memorable. As we drove away, my daughter exclaimed, “That was really interesting. I had no idea that a hydrogeologist’s work was so important.” Our guides encouraged us to continue to explore geologic sciences in school. They also emphasized the importance of good communication skills, particularly writing. Geologists in all fields need to be able to communicate complicated information to others and write a variety of reports and letters.
In addition, “People skills are invaluable, which is why I say that the most important things I did as a graduate student was go to professional society meetings,” stated Leonard Kornikow, a hydrogeologist with the US Geological Survey. At the middle school and high school level, talking in depth with adults in fields of interest is equally important.
Average salary range: $42,000 to $67,000 per year
If you are interested in further exploring geology with your children, there are many activities and curriculum materials available. I have developed a complete earth science curriculum called Our Dynamic Earth. It is a ten-week curriculum that incorporates more than 20+ activities and the lesson plans are fully outlined for you. Background knowledge, notebooking pages, and suggestions for extension activities are included.