Hydrographer in the field.

Hydrography as a Profession – Invisible No Longer

The Australian Hydrographers association (AHA) has successfully convinced the Australian New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO) to officially adopt hydrography as a profession.

In Canada, 30,000 job titles are managed by Human Resources and Skills Development Canada. Under the general category ‘2113 geoscientists and oceanographers’, one could be one of 60 occupations studying earth science. Under ‘2114 – meteorologists and climatologists’ one could be one of 14 classifications specifically for studying or forecasting the weather. Under ‘2255 – technical occupations in geomatics and meteorology’ there are no fewer than thirteen different classifications for observing some aspect of the weather.

To find a title for Hydrographic engineer, technician or technologist one needs to dig deep into ‘2212 – geological and mineral technologists and technicians’.

I don’t think many of us in surface water monitoring would self-identify with this group employed by ‘petroleum and mining companies, consulting geology and engineering firms, and by governments and educational institutions as well as by a variety of manufacturing, construction and utilities companies ‘ and work in the ‘fields of oil and gas exploration and production, geophysics, petroleum engineering, geology, mining and mining engineering, mineralogy, extractive and physical metallurgy, metallurgical engineering and environmental protection’. There is a distinction between a ‘sea-floor technologist’ and a ‘sea-bottom technologist’ in this category which leads me to think that the hydrographic titles actually refer to ocean hydrography. The context provided for hydrographer job titles clearly does not reflect the work of stream hydrography.

In the US, the Department of Labor manages 8,446 job titles in the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. Hydrologists ‘’Research the distribution, circulation, and physical properties of underground and surface waters; and study the form and intensity of precipitation, its rate of infiltration into the soil, movement through the earth, and its return to the ocean and atmosphere.’ So, apparently, hydrologists do not directly measure or monitor water. There is no description of the work of ensuring the data required to manage our most vital natural resource is properly created and curated.

Preliminary results from our recent industry-wide survey indicate that the complexity of stream gauging is increasing with more parameters monitored, more sophisticated technology in use and increased demand for improved quality management and timeliness. The size of monitoring networks is expected to increase substantially resulting in a need for many more stream hydrographers over the coming decade.

Jeff Watson of Horizons Regional Council, has been working on getting hydrology officially recognized as an area of skills shortage within New Zealand. Having hydrography officially classified as a career should help the process for getting skilled foreign hydrologists/hydrographers into New Zealand. This application for recognition as an employment category was declined due to the perceived lack of numbers in the industry. However the existing Environmental Research Scientist category can, with careful wording of an immigration application, be utilized for employment in the hydrography industry.

According to Simon Cruickshank, the Water Monitoring Manager for the Northern Territory of Australia, the Australian Bureau of statistics will now be able to audit and report at a national scale of metrics such as: Number of advertised vacancies per annum, How many vacancies were filled, Success rate for advertising, number of foreign applicants employed, Hydrographer demographics, and statistics on Hydrographer qualifications.

Bill Steen, chairman of the Australian Hydrographers Association (AHA), thinks that the new ANZSCO classification will open doors for things like funding and employing internationally. We need to catch up in North America.

Measuring and monitoring water resources is one of the most sophisticated careers there is.

­There are few, arguably no, other careers that can match stream hydrography with such a broad spectrum of applied skill, theoretical knowledge, analytical ability as well as individual resourcefulness requirements. I challenge anyone to find any career from the thousands of ‘officially’ titled jobs that is more fundamentally important for sustaining both a robust economy and healthy environment, that requires more diverse and highly specialized skill requirements, with less recognition or institutional support.

How is it that we are so invisible? There are a lot of us.

My theory is that it is that in order to be where we need to be when we need to be to do our jobs well we are very thin on the ground. Institutional barriers contribute as well. Hydrographers have little interaction with other hydrographers outside of their own agency but they only have a small presence in any one agency.

The work is too complicated not to have a coordinated approach to training and accreditation. The majority of respondents to the industry survey indicated that they get their training either in-house or self-taught using Google and Wikipedia. There is some good material on the internet but I have also found information related to hydrometry that just makes me cringe. An alignment of North America with Australia and New Zealand in recognizing hydrography as a profession will go a long way toward the eventual development of industry-wide standards for training including collaboration on the development of curricula, content and accreditation criteria.

This will improve data collection world-wide.

The quality of data will be function only of local environmental challenges not of local operator competency. Efficiencies will be achieved with more effective transfer of knowledge. Time and resources now spent on trial and error approaches will become available for more productive activities. Recruitment will increase as students will be able to clearly identify an exciting, challenging and rewarding career path.

One small step in a bureaucratic process may lead to a giant leap for water data availability.

Photo Credit: U.S. Geological Survey  |  Department of the Interior/USGS  |  U.S. Geological Survey/photo by B. Duet

To learn more about salary trends for hydrologists, education in the workforce and the role of women in the industry, please read our Report: Global Hydrological Monitoring Industry Trends.

Survey Report: Global Hydrological Monitoring Industry Trends

700+ water professionals participated in this global hydrological monitoring study. How can you keep pace with the industry revolution? Get this report for the latest trends, standards, and practices.

1 Comment
  • Gerald D
    Posted at 3:53 am, January 24, 2013

    very nice text! I am doing this job (in addition to quality monitoring) in a mediterranean setting so challenges are different here. We do not get ice floating on our rivers but have to deal with rivers carrying flash floods but also falling dry in the same season.
    I fully agree with “the freedom to travel extensively to some of the most beautiful landscapes” to arrange for monitoring. This is really one of the best sides of what we do.
    I also agree with the downside of our job that we have only “a small presence in any one agency” – very true in my setting.
    When you speak about an alignment of North America with Australia and New Zealand in recognizing hydrography as a profession, I would say you should not forget about Europe. It is a fact that the European Union, over the last years and mostly through the European Envrironment Agency, is putting much emphasis on “water quantity”, a large part of which is related to stream flow. So, I would see the opportunity to get the EU on board as well.

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