Hydrogeology MSc

Red rock face

A comprehensive training in the theory and practice of groundwater science and engineering, providing an excellent basis for careers in scientific, engineering and environmental consultancies, water companies, major industries, research, and government scientific and regulatory services in the UK and abroad. Modules encompass the full range of groundwater studies and are supported by practical field sessions and computing and hydrogeological modelling based on industry standard software.

*Scholarships available*
See the 'fees and funding' section within the 'Course details' tab for more information.

Course fact file

Type of Course: Taught

Study Options: Full time

Duration: 1 year full-time

Start date: September

Details

This is a vocational programme relevant to graduates with good Honours degrees in appropriate subjects (for example, Geosciences, Engineering, Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, Biosciences, and Environmental Sciences). It is important to have a good knowledge of mathematics.

The lecture component of the programme encompasses the full range of hydrogeology. Modules cover drilling, well design, aquifer test analysis, laboratory test analysis, groundwater flow, hydrogeophysics, inorganic chemistry of groundwaters, organic contamination of groundwater, contaminated land and remediation, groundwater modelling, contaminant transport, hydrology, and groundwater resources assessment.

These lecture modules are supported by practical field sessions, and by computing and hydrogeological modelling based on industry standard software. Integration of concepts developed in the taught programmes is facilitated through student-centred investigations of current issues linked to a diverse range of hydrogeological environments.

Examinations are held in January and April. From May onwards, you undertake a project, a report on which is submitted in September.

Projects may be field-, laboratory-, or modelling- based, and are usually of an applied nature, although a few are research-orientated. Our chemical (inorganic and organic), rock testing, computing, geophysical and borehole-logging equipment is available for you to use during this period.

Career openings include those with consulting engineering and environmental firms, government scientific services and regional water companies, both in this country and abroad. Demand for hydrogeologists is substantial and students from the course are highly regarded by employers.

Download the MSc Hydrogeology Brochure

Why study this course

The course covers all major areas of groundwater resources, groundwater pollution and remediation, and groundwater engineering. Groundwater conditions are treated on an international basis and there are usually opportunities each year for students to undertake project work abroad.

The course is the longest established hydrogeology course in the UK, having been set up in the early 1970s, and as such its alumni are spread throughout the industry. Around 24 students in total take the course each year, coming from a wide range of backgrounds, from the UK, other parts of Europe, and further afield.

Over its 40 year history, the MSc Course in Hydrogeology has changed considerably, keeping in step with major changes in the subject, the concerns of the industry, and vastly increased computer power. Uniquely for a UK university department, there are now six core members of hydrogeological staff, specialists covering chemical, microbiological, geological and modelling aspects of the subject.

Modules

The course runs over 12 months from September to September. In the Autumn and Spring terms the subject is developed in lectures and practical sessions interspersed with fieldwork, a seminar series and at least one visit to a national hydrogeological meeting.

There is also a ‘split registration’ option in which it is possible to study the taught elements of the course over two consecutive years, the independent project being completed before the end of September in the second year.

The Course has 10 taught modules, each representing either 10 or 20 credits. The individual project is worth 60 credits.

Groundwater Hydraulics (20 credits)

Aim: to develop a sound understanding of the physical processes controlling groundwater hydraulics and solute transport, the mathematical models used to describe them, and the full range of laboratory and field hydraulic tests to characterise the subsurface hydrogeologically.

Content: Principles of flow and storage in porous media; groundwater flow and storage in aquifers; solute transport; finite difference models; laboratory hydraulic property measurements; small scale field tests; large scale field tests; computer, field, and laboratory work.

Surface Water Interactions (10 credits)

Aim: to explore the interactions between surface and subsurface water systems including streams, rivers and lakes, and how to measure and quantify the fluxes at the interface.

Content: The hydrological cycle. Meteorology, precipitation and evapotranspiration. Unsaturated flows and groundwater recharge. Stream flows and stream/aquifer interactions. Lumped catchment water balance modelling (requiring an introduction to Visual Basic for Applications programming).

Borehole Design, Construction, and Maintenance (10 credits)

Aim: to develop a working understanding of the theory and practice of the design, construction and maintenance of boreholes for water supply.

Content: Methods of groundwater abstraction; drilling, logging, and sampling; borehole geophysics; pump technology and design; tube well design and construction; and well maintenance and rehabilitation. 

Environmental Geophysics (10 credits)

Aim: to explain and demonstrate the theory and practical application of surface geophysical methods in groundwater assessment, together with developing skills in the use of geographical information systems and remote sensing.

Content: Principles of geophysical techniques for shallow subsurface imaging with emphasis on electrical and electromagnetic surveys. Principles and applications of spatial data analysis with Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing.

Groundwater Management and Exploitation (10 credits)

Aim: to extend the principles introduced in Groundwater Hydraulics to cover a range of more complex and challenging flow systems and methods of analysis in the context of the management of groundwater.  The emphasis is on issues of current interest to groundwater professionals worldwide.

Content: Flow through fractures and fracture networks; saline groundwater movement; heat transport; further development of recharge and surface water / groundwater interaction theories and their applications; groundwater aspects of clean carbon technologies.

Inorganic Chemistry and Groundwater (10 credits)

Aim: to understand aqueous inorganic chemistry and to interpret groundwater chemistry data sets in the context of water-rock interactions to solve problems of regional flow, pollution and well design.

Content: Theory of dissolution/precipitation, acid-base, redox, and sorption reactions. Isotopes. Application to water resources and contaminant hydrogeology.

Groundwater organic contaminant pollution and remediation (20 credits)

Aim: to provide the organic contaminant hydrogeological knowledge base that will underpin a student’s potential future professional activity in the field of groundwater contamination by synthetic organic chemicals.

Content: Contaminant source terms; toxicology, environmental standards, and legislation; organic contaminant phase partitioning to air, water, solids; conceptual models of contaminant migration; processes of sorption, chemical reaction, biodegradation; non-aqueous phase flow; contaminated land / groundwater legislative frameworks; groundwater risk assessment; site investigation and groundwater monitoring practice; and groundwater remediation.

Regional Groundwater Flow Modelling (10 credits)

Aim: to provide an introduction to regional groundwater flow modelling; to refine skills in conceptualising groundwater systems from limited data; and to introduce professional groundwater modelling software.

Content: Conceptual modelling. Mathematical models. Numerical modelling methods and approximations. Modelling practice. Case studies. Flow modelling project using a proprietary modelling system - G/W Vistas (+MODFLOW).

Contaminant Transport Modelling (10 credits)

Aim: to extend the basic theory introduced in Groundwater Flow and Transport Theory, and to introduce and apply the methods commonly used in modelling solute transport in different types of aquifer.

Content: Review of conservative and reactive transport principles. Models for dual porosity and multi-phase systems. Application of contaminant transport software - MODPATH and MT3D.

Water Resources Studies (10 credits)

Aim: to understand how hydrogeological assessments are structured and to develop ability in hydrogeological interpretation and water resources assessment for different geological settings, physical domains and exploitation proposals. To understand how the various aspects of hydrogeological investigation are integrated. To gain an introduction to the UK hydrogeological research and industry community.

Content: uided research on various hydrogeological environments in the context of different applied problems: includes sandstones and chalk in temperate climates; hard rock aquifers in developing semi-arid environments; wetlands; karst; and nuclear waste disposal. Seminars from external speakers. Attendance at a national meeting.

For those requiring it, there are additional supporting sessions at the start of the year on those mathematical concepts relevant to the course.

Fees and funding

This programme is in fee band B for international students

  • Home/EU students £6,240 FT (£3,120 PT)
  • International students £17,355 FT only

Learn more about fees and funding 

SRK Scholarship
SRK Consulting (UK) is pleased to announce their 2014 scholarship programme, created to assist students undertaking scientific and engineering MSc’s which can be applied in the mining industry.The value of the scholarship is up to a maximum of £5,000 which will be payable directly to the University for course fees. Find out more about the SRK scholarship and how to apply (PDF 166KB) 

 

In previous years this course was awarded 11 NERC advanced programme studentships, but from the 2011/12 entry, NERC has decided to end provision of all such studentships to UK MSc courses.

International students can often gain funding through overseas research scholarships, Commonwealth scholarships or their home government.

For further information contact the School directly or get in touch with the Student Funding Office via the online enquiries system.

Entry requirements

Qualifications
The course is open to graduates who hold a good honours degree or an equivalent qualification from the full range of science, engineering and environmental disciplines.  The course is quantitative and teaches the principles underpinning Hydrogeology to a high level.  It introduces participants to many quantitative skills and methods and applicants are required, therefore, to demonstrate an adequate level of ability in mathematics that will allow them to gain the most from the Course and to work effectively in their future career.  An AS or A-level in Mathematics or an equivalent through their degree course or through appropriate tuition is sufficient.

Learn more about entry requirements

International students

Academic requirements

We accept a range of qualifications, our country pages show you what qualifications we accept from your country.

English language requirements

You can satisfy our English language requirements in two ways:

How to apply

When clicking on the Apply Now button you will be directed to an application specifically designed for the programme you wish to apply for where you will create an account with the University application system and submit your application and supporting documents online. Further information regarding how to apply online can be found on the How to apply pages

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Learning and teaching

Hydrogeology is the study of groundwater; an essential component of the world’s water supply. More than 2 billion people depend on groundwater for their daily needs (approximately 30% of water supplied in the UK is groundwater).

The aim of our Hydrogeology MSc Course is to provide students who have a good scientific or engineering background with a comprehensive training in the fundamentals of groundwater science and engineering, together with considerable practical experience.

The School is well supported and you will have the use of all equipment and facilities appropriate to your work: 

Computing

You will have access to the multiple clusters of PCs in the University Learning Centre and Library, and the School-based Earth Imaging Laboratory. The MSc course also has its own dedicated room for teaching and study with 6 PCs for convenient access to email, web and on-line learning resources.

Earth Imaging Lab

The University based computers have an extensive range of software installed that covers the needs of students of all disciplines, but in common with the School-based PCs, specialist software packages used routinely by professional hydrogeologists are installed for our MSc students. These include industry standard groundwater flow modelling, contaminant transport modelling, geochemical modelling, geophysical interpretation and field and laboratory hydraulic test analysis packages. You can also register for more specialist software on the University high speed BlueBEAR computing facility if your individual project requires it. Research software developed within the Water Sciences research group is also available.

Laboratories

The School is well equipped for inorganic and organic chemical analysis of field and laboratory samples. Facilities include: Total Organic Carbon analysis, Gas Chromatography, ICP Mass Spectrometry, Ion Chromatography, Stable Isotope Mass Spectrometry and Luminescence and UV/visible spectroscopy. These facilities have been used in a wide range of MSc projects, for both standard geochemical analysis of groundwater samples and for more specific purposes including studies of persistent organic pollutants and toxic heavy metals in the environment, and denitrification in river beds.

The School also has a dedicated microbiology laboratory equipped with an autoclave for sterilizing media and equipment, a class II safety cabinet for handing microbial samples, and incubators.

Facilities are also available within the School and elsewhere for geological material analysis, including thin section preparation and microscopy, a wide range of electron microscopy techniques, XRD, pore size distribution determination, and surface area measurement.

Fieldwork

The School has two field sites on campus for use by MSc students and research staff. Both consist of arrays of boreholes drilled into the underlying sandstone aquifer to depths of up to 60m.

The groundwater group is well stocked with field equipment, which is used extensively in research projects, for teaching, and particularly on individual MSc projects. This equipment includes pumping test equipment (submersible pumps, generators, packers, digital pressure transducers, data loggers, divers, dip meters, pipe-work and installation frames); chemical sampling and tracer transport equipment (depth samplers, sampling pumps, tracer test equipment and field fluorimeter, hand held EC, pH and EH probes, portable chemical lab kit); geophysical equipment (resistivity imaging, electromagnetic surveying, ground penetrating radar, and borehole logging); and a secure, towable, mobile laboratory for off-site testing.

Fieldwork and projects transform theory into practice and form a large part of the course. They are supported by extensive field, laboratory and technical facilities.

Fieldwork testing

A weeklong course of practical work and site visits is held in Week 7 of the Autumn Term. The content varies from year to year, but typically includes pumping tests, small-scale field tests, chemical sampling, and geophysics using the research boreholes on campus. Visits to landfill sites, water resources schemes, wetlands, and drilling sites are also arranged in collaboration with the Environment Agency, consultants and landfill operators. During the Spring Term, field demonstrations are provided by chemical sampling equipment distributors and manufacturers. You will gain further field experience either during your own 4.5 month project or when helping your colleagues on other projects.

Projects

Individual projects are undertaken from the beginning of May through to the middle of September. Projects are chosen from a list of around 40 topics suggested by the staff and outside organizations. We are also happy to consider projects of your own devising: sometimes, for example, if you are already in employment you may wish to undertake a project associated with the job you will return to.

fieldwork

Projects may be associated with outside organizations, typically consultants, the Environment Agency, or the British Geological Survey. However, all projects are supervised by one or more of the academic staff: the projects are not placements, but well-focused pieces of work.

Other projects are associated with research programmes within the School, and these will often involve PhD students and research staff. Usually there are a few opportunities for overseas projects, and in recent years students have undertaken projects in France, Brazil, Argentina, El Salvador, and South Africa.

Recent example projects include:

  • The migration of viruses through sandstone aquifers
  • The impact of groundwater abstraction on the Potford and Platt surface water catchment, Shropshire
  • Dewatering assessment for an African cement mine
  • Modelling the effect of fracture morphology on hydraulic properties
  • An investigation of chlorinated solvent plume discharge and attenuation in river beds  Fieldwork in Brazil
  • Modelling a groundwater dam in an alluvial ribbon-valley in Pernambuco, NE Brazil
  • Developing a water management strategy for industrial abstractions in Trafford Park, Manchester
  • Estimation of local-scale contaminant fluxes in groundwater via multilevel piezometers
  • A hydrogeological classification and ranking system for site environmental assessment of the ground storage of building energy
  • Geochemical processes in an arsenic and fluoride contaminated aquifer, Cordoba Province, Argentina
  • Sustainable management of groundwater resources in the Rosario-Mimoso Valley, NE Brazil
  • Investigation into the behaviour of organic gasworks contaminants at complex multi-source sites
  • Investigation of the attenuation capacity of the Triassic Sandstones for heavy metals using the geochemical model PHREEQC
  • The development of a flow meter for hyporheic zone (sub-river zone) flows

All students give a presentation on their project in July, when you will also be interviewed by the External Examiner for the Course.

Assessment methods

Some modules are assessed through coursework alone. The remainder are assessed by one examination in January and four in April, after which you will undertake an extended individual project. 

Related research

Employability

Graduates take up careers in consultancy, in the UK or abroad, or join regulators such as the Environment Agency or government scientific services like the British Geological Survey, and others move into research or work in water supply companies.

Drilling boreholes in the forest

Although some consultancies specialise, many undertake a very wide range of groundwater-related work providing consultants with interestingly varied careers. Work may involve:

  • siting wells for water supply in the UK
  • siting village wells in hard rock terrains in a developing country
  • contaminated land assessment
  • designing landfills
  • developing Environment Agency procedures and techniques
  • researching radioactive waste disposal facilities
  • assessing wetland water balances
  • determining water level changes for subsidence estimation

The vast majority of jobs are far from routine, each presenting its own challenges. In the Environment Agency you may find yourself becoming an expert on the hydrogeology of your region, making sure that the groundwater systems are protected for future generations or, often partly through commissioning work from consultants, developing new procedures and policies, and techniques for implementing them. This will often require detailed knowledge of legislation fundamental to the future of the UK water industry, including that from the European Union such as the Water Framework and Groundwater Directives. The British Geological Survey is a major employer of hydrogeologists, and undertakes a wide variety of work in the UK and overseas. Many water companies also employ hydrogeologists, who undertake work ranging from source maintenance and protection to researching new ways of developing existing resources. 

Over our 40 year history, there has never been a problem in gaining employment in groundwater, though times have been a little more challenging since the start of the recession. In fact, up until the start of the recession, in the UK especially, there was a well-recognized, major shortage of hydrogeologists - the UK was simply not producing enough. Each year, around 20 companies come to our careers fair, including in recent years from overseas, and many send in job advertisements for us to circulate to students. Even with the downturn in the economy, jobs are still available in the UK and overseas (Australia currently has a major shortage of hydrogeologists) with effectively 100% employment of our graduates. We believe that over the next few years the employment market will continue expanding and that the long term prospects are excellent.