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An Educational Guide to Hydrology - The Study of Water

Water is one of our most valuable natural resources. Besides being vital for our bodies to function, water promotes life in other ways: Without water, we couldn't keep livestock, grow crops, wash food, or regulate the earth's climate. In fact, life would cease to exist at all. Hydrology, the study of water, seeks to better understand our planet's water system s , and hydrologists aim to solve today's water problems. The following provides information about water on Earth and human involvement in water use. Get the answers to important questions: What is hydrology? What is a hydrologist? And how is water used in modern society?

Water and How It's Used Today

In 2000, an estimated 408 billion gallons of water per day were used in the United States. This figure has stayed fairly steady for decades, with the two largest uses of water being irrigation and thermoelectric power. Fresh ground water withdrawals rose 14 percent from 1985 to 2000, data show, though surface water use varied much less. Water is used for nearly everything, and you may not even know it. For instance, more than 400 gallons of water are needed to grow the cotton necessary for a single pair of jeans, while more than 32,000 gallons of water are required to create finished steel for a vehicle.

The Water Cycle

What is hydrology? Hydrology is the scientific study of the properties, distribution, and circulation of water on the earth's surface. The water cycle is an ongoing process in which water is first purified through evaporation and transferred from the oceans into the air and atmosphere, then falls as precipitation back to the oceans and land. Water can be transported through various pathways, such as rain, snow, and even polar ice caps. A hydrologist studies this transportation process to define the quality and quantity of water as it makes its way through the hydrologic cycle.

Studies and Field Work

The job of a hydrologist is to apply mathematical principles and scientific knowledge to solve society's water-based problems, including those of availability, quality and quantity. Topics of concern may include controlling river flooding, finding sources of water for towns and cities, and soil erosion. In the field, hydrologists may gather data, test water quality, manage field crews, or work with equipment. Hydrologists often use computers for analyzing, summarizing, and organizing data and to perform important studies, such as analyzing the effects on water and soil caused by underground oil storage tank leakage. The job of a hydrologist greatly varies in complexity and can include duties near home or abroad.

Collecting Surface and Ground Water

Nearby rivers, lakes, and reservoirs are often needed by cities to meet their water demands. To ensure that the surface water meets availability requirements, hydrologists record rainfall, river flows, and snowpack depths. Hydrologists work with public health officials in the monitoring of water supplies to ensure that health standards are met. If pollution is discovered, hydrologists work alongside environmental engineers to find a solution. Ground water must also be collected and tested after being pumped from beneath the earth's surface. Ground water is cheaper, convenient, and less vulnerable to pollution than surface water. While it has its share of benefits, ground water is also susceptible to pollution and can be difficult to decontaminate. Pollution of ground water is most often caused by the improper disposal of various wastes on land, such as household chemicals, sewer sludge, and landfill garbage.

Options for Careers

Students who decide to get a job in hydrology should possess skills including a strong understanding of mathematics, geology, statistics, chemistry, computer science, and biology. A hydrologist should also have a background in subjects such as economics, government policy, and environmental law. Hydrologists should have good public relations skills and have the ability to work well with others as part of a team. They should also have excellent communication, writing, and speech-giving skills, as these skills are essential for professionals in this field and many others. Overall, hydrology remains a challenging and highly interesting career choice that is invaluable to the earth and all those who inhabit it.

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