Undergraduate Program Brochure


Water is intrinsic to all living systems, to civilization, even to the earth itself. In the atmosphere, it manifests as weather and climate; on the earth’s surface it shapes landscape, nourishes life, and supports human endeavor. Underground it permeates soil and rock, migrates through vast subterranean aquifers and reemerges in springs, wetlands and surface waterways. In the sequence known as the hydrological cycle it passes into the atmosphere as water vapor, precipitates to earth, and returns to the atmosphere through evaporation. Often too, it wreaks devastation in floods, drought, landslides, avalanches, debris flow, land subsidence, and sudden fault movement. And, increasingly, under the intense pressures of a growing world population and the demands of agricultural and industrial activities throughout the globe, water is degraded by pollutants and depleted by overuse.

Water is Intrinsic to Life

Hydrologic Science is the study of water in all of its aspects as weather, as river basins, as groundwater, as glaciers, as lakes, as streams, as permafrost, as water vapor. Hydrologists measure and analyze water beneath the ground, on the earth’s surface, and in the atmosphere to determine how water is affected by physical, chemical, and biological processes on earth.

Because hydrologic processes touch many disciplines, hydrology has traditionally been studied as a subspeciality of engineering, geology, or agricultural science. But growing awareness of water’s fundamental role in the environment and of the scope and critical nature of water problems worldwide has brought about recognition of the need for a broader, more congruent approach to hydrologic study.

In 1991 the National Research Council, pointing to an undersupply of qualified hydrologists in both the short-term and the foreseeable long-term, called for hydrologic science to be formulated as an independent scientific discipline with distinct training and research programs to bring about "a coherent understanding of water’s role in the planetary-scale behavior of the earth’s system". Just as vital is the need to understand the dynamics of water on other, smaller scales—at the continental, water-shed, and microscopic levels

A Comprehensive Program

UC Davis has responded to the need for a comprehensive hydrologic science curriculum with a new multidisciplinary program—a vigorous integration of chemistry, physics, biology, geology, soil science, engineering, mathematics, and atmospheric science. The hydrologic science program at UC Davis encompasses both undergraduate and graduate study—at present one of only two such programs in the country. The undergraduate hydrologic science program offers both a major and a minor in hydrologic science, leading to a BS degree. The graduate level offers three degree options—hydrology, hydrobiology, and hydrogeochemistry—at the MS and PhD levels. Within each graduate-level option, students can specialize in defined areas of study or develop an individualized program under the guidance of a faculty advisor.


The Hydrological Science Major is diverse and interdisciplinary. Designed to introduce students to a broad range of hydrologic processes, the coursework forms the basis for specialization in such areas as surface or groundwater hydrology (hydrogeology), hydrochemistry, hydrobiology, water management, and irrigation. Courses cover hydrologic processes from the perspectives of various disciplines—atmospheric, soil, plant and water sciences, engineering, and geology. Students in the major program complete a total of 180 units, including 72 units of rigorous coursework in the natural sciences and mathematics, along with general education coursework, followed by 44-54 units of in-depth coursework in physical and chemical hydrology along with water policy/social awareness, and 16-26 units in a chosen area of concentration, such as water quality, irrigation and drainage, groundwater hydrology, and surface hydrology. A concentration in groundwater hydrology requires a number of foundational courses in geology.


The Minor Program is designed for natural sciences students who have an interest in water and environmental issues. The coursework provides fundamental understanding of hydrologic science, enabling the student to pursue broad career opportunities in this growing field. The minor allows for enough flexibility to enable students to pursue water issues and problems of particular interest. Students earning the minor take a minimum of 20-22 units in hydrologic science, including a required principles of hydrologic science course and an array of other classes chosen from a list of offerings, including groundwater hydrology, the biology of running waters, water law, environmental law, irrigation principles and practices, soils in land use and the environment, water quality, salt control and reclamation, groundwater hydrology, soil microbiology, biometeorology, plant-water-soil relationships, and aqueous geochemistry.

Internship and Career Opportunities

As a discipline, hydrologic science is steadily expanding over time and space, extending from delicate interactions between plant leaves and moisture to global-scale atmospheric events, and from short-lived phenomena to seasonal cycles, to climatic change evolving over centuries. With this expansion and with the urgent need to address water problems worldwide has come an opening up of career possibilities in the field—opportunities that remain largely independent of economic cycles. Well-trained hydrologists are needed, for example:

  • To find more efficient ways to use scarce groundwater and surface water resources;
  • To examine the effect of acid rain on the environment;
  • To find ways of preventing subsurface and surface waters from becoming polluted by urban runoff, leaky underground storage tanks, and agricultural drainage;
  • To define water quality criteria for drinking water and for fish and other aquatic life;
  • To forecast and plan for floods and droughts;
  • To understand the social dimensions of water use and to help bring about balance among competing water needs;
  • To analyze risk in the operation of surface reservoirs;
  • To find ways to replenish groundwater;
  • To trace water’s role in the formation of underground ore and petroleum deposits;
  • To examine the exchange of water, sediment, and nutrients between river channels and floodplains

The need for experts in subsurface hydrology to address the growing problem of contaminants seeping into the earth and contaminating groundwater aquifers is particularly acute. Hydrologists are needed in private industry and in regulatory agencies to help identify and clean up the contamination, in research laboratories and universities to develop new technologies for addressing contamination problems, and in universities to help train new hydrologists.

California, where the demand for high quality water chronically exceeds supply, affords ample and unique opportunities for the study of hydrology and for careers in hydrologic science. Nowhere is water more central to public policy decision-making than in California, with its burgeoning urban populations and multi-billion dollar agricultural industry concentrated in the mostly arid central and southern regions of the state, its vast water distribution system, and the intense competition for high quality water for domestic use, industry, fish and wildlife, agriculture, and recreation. Groundwater overdraft and contamination, soil salinity, farmland erosion, periodic flooding and drought, saltwater intrusion from oceans into freshwater, seepage from septic tanks, landfills, mine spoils, oil spills, the sharpening conflict between human beings and nature for the use of water, and the need to balance water use to prevent exhaustion of natural resources makes the state a living laboratory for the study of hydrologic problems and principles providing insights applicable all over the world.The Greater Sacramento-Davis Area offers numerous career and internship opportunities with consulting firms, private industry, environmental interest groups, and agricultural concern, as well as with government agencies and research laboratories, including the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency, U.S. Forest Service, Soil Conservation Service, California Environmental Protection Agency, California Water Resources Control Board, Regional Water Quality Control Boards, the California Departments of Conservation and Fish and Game, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Founded in 1905, UC Davis is a world-renowned university with diverse faculty and multidisciplinary atmosphere, ranking among the top 20 universities in the country in research funding. The third oldest campus in the nine-campus University of California system, the university offers a full range of undergraduate, graduate and professional programs. It includes the colleges of Letters and Science, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, and Engineering, as well as professional schools in law, management, medicine, and veterinary medicine. Enrollment stands at nearly 17,500 undergraduate students and 5,400 graduate and professional students, making it the third largest campus in the UC system. Faculty numbers about 1,700.

The faculty and graduate programs of UC Davis attract highly qualified students from diverse educational, social, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. The campus has a tradition of close association between students and faculty, with the style one of informality and congeniality. UC Davis in general and the Hydrologic Science faculty in particular are committed to excellence in undergraduate education.

UC Davis Campus

The campus spans some 5,200 acres, with hundreds of giant shade trees, an arboretum stretching along the banks of Putah Creek, and vast expanses of vineyards, orchards, grainfields, and other experimental croplands. Campus facilities include historic wooden buildings, brick and concrete classrooms and offices, modern laboratories, and a soaring new glass-fronted library. The campus core is closed to vehicular traffic, making bicycles a popular form of transpiration.

The campus offers an abundance of recreational and cultural activities, including concerts, art shows, lectures, theatres, a fully-equipped crafts center, an array of intramural and intercollegiate activities, facilities for horseback riding, sailing, swimming, and flying, as well as opportunities for backpacking, mountaineering, skiing, and rafting.

Students can choose from a wide variety of off-campus and on-campus housing, with most off-campus housing located within a fifteen-minute bicycle ride of the campus.

The Davis Community

Davis is a progressive, environmentally conscious community of 51,000 located in the heart of the fertile central Valley, 15 miles west of Sacramento and 74 miles northeast of San Francisco. The city boasts the second highest per capita education level of any city in the nation, with students making up nearly half the city’s population. Surrounded by farmland and open space, the city is laced with more than 50 miles of bike paths and includes numerous parks, playing fields, tennis courts, jogging paths and greenbelts. Winters in Davis are mild and wet, fall and spring are pleasantly moderate, and summers are hot and dry. A bi-weekly farmer’s market within easy walking distance of the campus offers farm-fresh produce, baked goods, and crafts. A low crime rate, excellent public schools, and close tie

s between the community and the university promote a friendly college town atmosphere and make Davis an agreeable place to live, work, and study.

Lake Tahoe and Sierra Nevada wilderness areas, with excellent skiing at Squaw Valley and other ski resorts lie within two hours of Davis. The Cosumnes, American, Sacramento, and Feather River basins, as well as the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta wetlands are located all within a short driving distance. The Napa Valley wine country lies one hour to the west and the Historic Mother Lode country of the Sierra foothills is located one hour to the east. Point Reyes National Seashore and other scenic points along the spectacular northern Pacific Coast are also within a two or three hour drive of the city.

Questions and Answers

Q. Is enrollment in the undergraduate hydrologic science program limited?

A. No limit has been imposed in the number of undergraduate students in the hydrologic science program. The program is presently designed to accommodate about forty hydrologic science majors.

Q. Will I have an advisor to help me with questions and problems?

A. Yes. All students can work directly with the master advisor. Additional faculty advisors will be available as needed.

Q. Can I graduate in four years?

A. Yes. The program is structured to enable students to complete the degree requirements in four years, but it is advisable to begin completing the program requirements early in the college career.

Q. Will I have any trouble getting the classes I need?

A. Except for some freshman chemistry and calculus courses, all classes in the program are readily available and have relatively low enrollments.

Q. What high school classes should I take?

A. In addition to courses needed to fulfill general university requirements, students intending to enter the hydrologic science program should have a strong high school background in mathematics and science, including courses in pre-calculus or calculus, physics, chemistry, and biology. Additional coursework in the earth sciences would be helpful.

Q. Will I be able to take internships?

A. Yes. Internships with industry and government agencies are available through faculty members and through the student employment center.

Q. What are some of the careers available to hydrologic science graduates?

A. There are wide-ranging career opportunities for hydrologic science graduates in federal and state environmental and resource agencies dealing with resource and contamination issues, in private industry, and in environmental consulting firms.

Q. What is the job market like for hydrologic science graduates?

A. there is substantial need in this growing field for well-trained hydrologists. Opportunities vary from region to region within the country. Excellent opportunities exist for overseas employment.

For more information about the Undergraduate Hydrologic Science Program at the University of California, Davis call (530) 752-1669.

Download: Hydrology PDF Brochure