Nature of the Work
Environmental scientists and hydrologists use their knowledge of the physical makeup and history of the Earth to protect the environment, study the properties of underground and surface waters, locate water and energy resources, predict water-related geologic hazards, and provide environmental site assessments and advice on indoor air quality and hazardous-waste-site remediation.
Environmental scientists conduct research to identify, abate, and eliminate hazards that affect people, wildlife, and their environments. These workers analyze measurements or observations of air, food, water, and soil to determine the way to clean and preserve the environment. Understanding the issues involved in protecting the environment—degradation, conservation, recycling, and replenishment—is central to the work of environmental scientists. They often use this understanding to design and monitor waste disposal sites, preserve water supplies, and reclaim contaminated land and water to comply with Federal environmental regulations. They also write risk assessments, describing the likely affect of construction and other environmental changes; write technical proposals; and give presentations to managers and regulators.
Most entry-level environmental scientists and hydrologists spend the majority of their time in the field, while more experienced workers generally devote more time to office or laboratory work. Many beginning hydrologists and some environmental scientists, such as environmental ecologists and environmental chemists, often take field trips that involve physical activity. Environmental scientists and hydrologists in the field may work in warm or cold climates, in all kinds of weather. In their research, they may dig or chip with a hammer, scoop with a net, come in contact with water, and carry equipment. Travel often is required to meet with prospective clients or investors.
Researchers and consultants might face stress when looking for funding. Occasionally, those who write technical reports to business clients and regulators may be under pressure to meet deadlines and thus have to work long hours.
Education and Training
A bachelor’s degree in an earth science is adequate for a few entry-level positions, but environmental scientists increasingly need a master’s degree in environmental science, hydrology, or a related natural science. A master’s degree also is the minimum educational requirement for most entry-level applied research positions in private industry, in State and Federal agencies, and at State geological surveys. A doctoral degree generally is necessary for college teaching and most research positions.
Environmental scientists and specialists held about 89,400 jobs in 2010. Many more individuals held environmental science faculty positions in colleges and universities, but they are classified as postsecondary teachers.
Employment of environmental scientists and specialists is expected to grow by 19 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Heightened public interest in the hazards facing the environment, as well as the increasing demands placed on the environment by population growth, is projected to spur demand for environmental scientists and specialists. Further demand is also expected as a result of new and increasingly complex environmental laws and regulations.
Most employment growth for environmental scientists and specialists is projected to be in private consulting firms that help clients monitor and manage environmental concerns and comply with regulations.
The median annual wage of environmental scientists and specialists was $61,700 in May 2011. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,850, and the top 10 percent earned more than $107,990.
Most environmental scientists and specialists work full time. They may have to work long or irregular hours when working in the field.