What does a Hydrographic Surveyor do?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 February 2020
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A hydrographic surveyor maps the bottoms of rivers, lakes, coastlines, and deep oceans. A professional uses a number of highly sophisticated tools and electronic devices to create topographical maps. Surveyors employ global positioning system (GPS) software, sound navigation and ranging (sonar) equipment, and physical depth finders in their explorations. Hydrographic surveyors are employed in many industries and settings, including government agencies, private Earth science research groups, oil companies, and shipping corporations.

A research surveyor creates accurate representations of ocean floors, lake bottoms, and riverbeds to uncover important environmental information. He or she designs maps and tracks changes in water levels and soil composition. By frequently studying an area, the hydrographic surveyor can determine which factors contribute to such changes, which may include erosion, climate change, and biological activity. The findings of hydrographic surveyors are used to create new policies regarding the use of water sources and the protection of native wildlife.

In the past, surveyors relied on anchors and weighted lines to measure water levels in different areas. Modern technology such as sonar equipment now allows surveyors to create more reliable topographical maps. In addition, surveyors are able to record information about latitude, longitude, and water depth in certain areas with GPS devices.


Many hydrographic surveyors embark on deep sea explorations to gather data about geographical shifts and seafloor spreading, especially along the mid-Atlantic ridge. Experts map the peaks and surrounding areas of ridges to learn how undersea plates move and expand. They can use data from their explorations to explain the movement of continents and predict geologic activity, such as earthquakes and the uprising of underwater volcanoes. Surveyors are essential in mapping reliable routes for ocean ships to help them avoid peaks and dangerous waters.

Some ocean mappers are employed by oil, utility, and telecommunications companies. A hydrographic surveyor who works for an oil corporation participates in explorations for undersea fossil fuel deposits. He or she can provide expert advice about where and how to drill. Utility and telecommunications surveyors map the peaks, valleys, and obstructions on seafloors so that communications lines can be laid down across large distances. Surveyors with expert mapping skills are often involved in the planning of dredging projects and shipwreck recovery efforts.

An advanced degree is necessary to obtain most hydrographic surveyor jobs. Many professionals hold master's or doctoral degrees in hydrogeology, geography, geophysics, or mathematics. Experience with GPS and sonar can be very helpful in finding hydrographic surveyor work. With relevant education and experience in the field, many surveyors are able to become lead supervisors on research projects and ocean expeditions.


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