With global warming invading our daily lives more and more, many students are seeking careers to help predict our ever-changing weather. Most look to the sky, but might not think about starting right here on the ground as a Geologist.
In fact, ground measurements are crucial to forecasting storms, particularly as it relates to flooding, which can be one of the most destructive and long-lasting aspects of a storm.
Civil engineers at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) track water levels and river flows across the United States. The USGS plugs stream gauges into many of the country’s rivers and streams to record water levels and let USGS staff calculate the amount of water that passes a specific point in a certain amount of time. These water flow figures can help their team know when the water level is changing and predict the likely effects it can cause downstream.
The USGS team measures the flows periodically throughout the year in normal high and low flows, and also during flood events. They will compare the water levels during heavy storms to what happened in the past, and established a relationship between rainfall and water level. They then share the data with the National Weather Service for its computer models and help improve upon them. Ultimately, this helps give a better idea of when to issue flood warnings.
They will also study how shifts in land use might affect a stream or river. New roads or pavement can increase the amount of runoff from storms if the water isn’t able to soak into the soil. This can erode and widen waterways. This type of analysis can help answer questions during future events. For instance, should a dam be released or held back?
The work can help lay long-term plans for what to expect as our planet’s climate changes. It involves a lot of complex math and computer systems, but also plenty of time to go into the field to get good and muddy. It certainly makes for a very interesting career.