I wanted to know what math is needed for hydrology, in particular surface water hydrology.

In my research online, of Master's programs (either in Hydrology or Environmental Science with a concentration in Hydrology), the undergraduate math pre-requisites differ greatly from program to program: some just required a year of calculus, others wanted or strongly recommended Calculus I, II, and III and yet other programs it was Calculus I, II, III, Linear Algebra, and Differential equations.

Does anyone have any suggestions or thoughts about how much math?!

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    $\begingroup$ Math is the language of hydrology, regardless of the requirements for admission, you'll need it to understand and be able to work in the field. However, no need to be worried, you study to learn and the university is there to teach you. Calculus and differential equations are important. Some statistics and programming skills will also be useful. I'd go for the university with the higher requirement, as they probably teach more effficient. $\endgroup$
    – user2821
    Mar 9, 2017 at 2:40
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    $\begingroup$ You should first check out the open coursework available from MIT, for example. This will give you a very quick idea of what you actually need to know. Edit; Here's the link: ocw.mit.edu/courses/civil-and-environmental-engineering/… $\endgroup$
    – Coastal
    Mar 9, 2017 at 5:51
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    $\begingroup$ A bit of physics would be relevant too. Look for Physical Hydrology Dingman or similar to learn how maths and physics are used in this field. $\endgroup$
    – marsisalie
    Mar 9, 2017 at 23:36
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the information! I'm contemplating either hydrology or soil science and I'm trying to get as much info as possible. Ironically enough, colleges and universities have been the least helpful. $\endgroup$
    – user7678
    Mar 13, 2017 at 5:25
  • $\begingroup$ Not a duplicate, but related: earthscience.stackexchange.com/questions/4300/… $\endgroup$ Aug 14, 2017 at 17:13

1 Answer 1


Math is very important for hydrology. Especially for surface water problems, you require understanding of differential equations while open-water hydraulics like backwater calculations are complex. If you need a great deal of detail, these problems cannot be solved analytical, only numerical.

So I recommend a good mathematical basis to study surface water hydrology and hydraulics.

  • $\begingroup$ If you had to pick between Calc 3 or Differential Equations to take, is there a preference for which course? $\endgroup$
    – user7678
    Sep 1, 2017 at 4:04
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    $\begingroup$ If you have to pick one, I would prefer Differential Equations. It helps you understanding the fundamental equations needed for open water hydraulics. $\endgroup$
    – 3TW3
    Sep 1, 2017 at 7:21

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