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Hydrogeology MSc

Start date
1 year full-time, 2 years part-time
Course Type
Postgraduate, Taught

£9,250 (Home/EU students)
£23,310 (International Students)
More detail


Our Hydrogeology Msc offers comprehensive training in the theory and practice of groundwater science and engineering, with a split registration option that allows the course to be taken over two years. The autumn term includes a week of fieldwork, and students will also attend a national research conference.

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 and bursaries

Our database contains details of postgraduate taught and research scholarship and funding opportunities available to support your studies at the University of Birmingham. Find out more. There are also bursary and pre-course opportunities specific to this course (please see Fees tab below).

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.

Pablo Cassanova

“This is one of the most respected courses worldwide, with extremely dedicated teachers willing to help you and support you at anytime”

Pablo Casonova - Schlumberger Water Services, Chile 

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.

Study abroad at Birmingham has given me an amazing journey. I got beneficial things to do during my postgraduate study. I met classmates and lecturers from different countries that really valuable to give other perspectives. As a Muslim, I could find mosque and Halal food very easy. In addition, the transportation system is well-structured. I also had opportunity to travel around Birmingham as a vibrant city with its strategic location in UK.

Janu Muhammad

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. The Course is taught by three core members of staff, specialists covering chemical, mathematical, and geological aspects of the subject, together with a range of specialist guest lecturers.


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.

Taught modules:

Groundwater Flow and Contaminant Transport Modelling

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).

Surface Water and Groundwater Interactions: Theory, GIS and Programming

Aim: To introduce surface and unsaturated zone hydrology and interactive processes between groundwater and surface water

Content: The module explores the interactions between subsurface and surface water systems including soils, streams, rivers and lakes and how to measure and quantify the fluxes at the land surface/groundwater interface.

Borehole Design, Construction, and Maintenance

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. 

Inorganic Chemistry and Groundwater

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.

Water Resources Studies

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: guided 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.

Groundwater Hydraulics

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.

Groundwater Organic Contaminant Pollution and Remediation

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.


Fees for 2020

  • Home/EU students £9,250 FT (£4,625 PT)
  • International students £23,310 FT only

Learn more about fees and funding

Scholarships and bursaries

BHS, JBA Trust and the Environment Agency - Hydrology Studentship

There are a small number of Hydrology studentships from BHS, JBA Trust and the Environment Agency available, and applications are now open.  The deadline is 15th July. Awards are anticipated to be between £1,500 and £2,500 depending on the number and quality of applicants. Students can apply directly online.

SRK Consulting Scholarship

A competitive scholarship from SRK Consulting (UK) Ltd is available. You can download details and application procedure. Deadline for applications is Saturday 17 August 2019.

Our database contains details of postgraduate taught and research scholarship and funding opportunities available to support your studies at the University of Birmingham. Find out more

International Students

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

Further Information

For further information contact the School directly or get in touch with the Funding, Graduation & Awards via the online enquiries system.

If you wish to obtain experience in the UK groundwater industry before joining the course, please contact the Course Tutor, John Tellam (; 0121 414 6138) as opportunities sometimes arise.  

For EU students applying for the 2020/21 academic year

The UK Government has confirmed that EU students will continue to be eligible for 'home fee status' for entry in September 2020, and will continue to have access to eligible financial support via the Postgraduate Masters or Doctoral loan for the duration of their course. For more information visit the website.

You can also visit our EU Referendum information page for more information and updates.

EU Referendum

Answering your questions and concerns about the outcome of the EU referendum.

How To Apply

International students requiring visas

Wednesday 1 July 2020 is the application deadline for international students who require a visa to study in the United Kingdom. We are not able to consider applications for 2020 made after this date; a new application will need to be made for September 2021.

Home/EU students (and International students NOT requiring visas)

Thursday 10 September 2020 is the application deadline for Home/EU students and international students who do not require a visa to study in the United Kingdom. We are not able to consider applications for 2020 made after this date; a new application will need to be made for September 2021.

Applications for 2020 entry are now open.

Making your application

If you would like to visit the University before or after applying, please contact the Course Tutor, John Tellam (; 0121 414 6138). The University also organises postgraduate Open Days


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

Apply now

Our Standard Requirements


The course is open to graduates who hold a 2:1 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 Requirements

International Students

English language requirements

Standard English language requirements apply (IELTS: 6.0 overall with no less than 5.5 in any band)

IELTS 6.0 with no less than 5.5 in any band is equivalent to:

  • TOEFL: 80 overall with no less than 19 in Reading, 19 in Listening, 21 in Speaking and 19 in Writing
  • Pearson Test of English (PTE): Academic 51 in all four skills
  • Cambridge English (exams taken from 2015): Advanced – minimum overall score of 169, with no less than 162 in any component

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: 


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 six PCs for convenient access to email, web and on-line learning resources.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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