Master in Hydrology


Program Description

Understanding the hydrological system and its societal impacts

  • People in Africa and Asia walk an average of 6km to collect water
  • Only about 0.003 percent of the water on Earth can be used by humans

In this Hydrology programme you will be educated to understand the complex interactions between hydrological processes and the relation with society, and how this may change under future global change. We focus on learning skills, including in the field and modelling, to enable you to address issues in water quantity, quality and associated risks such as floods and droughts.

  • How does the hydrological system function and how does it relate with climate, vegetation and society?
  • How can we ensure there is enough water available for every person?
  • Can we ensure water quality for agriculture, biodiversity and drinking water?
  • How can we minimize the impact of extreme flood events in dense urban areas?
In 2018 and 2019 the Hydrology program has been awarded the label "Top Master" in the 'Keuzegids 2018/ 2019' of C.H.O.I. (Higher education information centre). The decision to grant this award is based on the ratings given by experts and students to the quality of the program.

What do we offer?

  • You will learn to study hydrological processes and societal interactions from an integrated perspective, using real world examples.
  • Our motto is: ‘measuring is knowing’. In the first year, we offer 5 week fieldwork courses in the Netherlands and Luxembourg.
  • For second year MSc Thesis subjects we offer a permanent field site in Kitui, Kenya
  • You will learn to apply field measurements and theory into estimating water risk for society and explore management options to lower risk.
  • International MSc Thesis locations: tropical Amazonia, permafrost regions of Siberia, highly urban areas ( New York City, Amsterdam and Jakarta).

Looking into the future

With a Master of Science in Hydrology you will be able to pursue a career in hydrology and water management with Engineering companies, consultants, governments, NGO’s or academia. Apply your skills to manage our world’s most precious resource: water!

Study programme

Our International Hydrology Master's Programme is in English and requires two years of study to obtain the 120 ECTS (European Credit Transfer System) that you need for graduation as a Master of Science in Hydrology. A part of the programme is compulsory (96 ECTS out of a total of 120 ECTS). You can choose electives worth 24 ECTS credit points from the Master's programme in Hydrology or from other Master's programmes in hydrological, natural or environmental sciences.

First year
In the first year, the Hydrology MSc programme consists of a combination of lectures, computer workshops, laboratory and field courses in Luxembourg and The Netherlands. This period is used to teach you the basics of theoretical and experimental hydrology, methods to assess hydrological risk for society and you learn to apply knowledge of hydrological processes to real world water management issues.

Second year
The second year allows further specialisation in your area of interest, and is concluded by 6-8 months Master thesis project. It includes elective courses at the VU on topics like groundwater, climate modelling, and biogeochemical cycles. Students may also opt to follow specific courses at other universities (e.g. UNESCO-IHE; TU Delft) in the Netherlands at no extra costs (see also Course programme).

The MSc hydrology project can be a desk study (e.g. hydrological modelling) or a study incorporating field measurements, e.g at our permanent field sites in Luxembourg, Kenya, Siberia. During the final part of the study programme there is ample choice in master’s thesis subjects. You can carry out your master’s thesis work at the VU Amsterdam or at our Amsterdam Water Science partner UvA. Another option is to arrange your research in association with one of the many water-related institutions and organizations in the Netherlands and abroad. Some students combine their Thesis work with an internship

Main course themes:

  • Catchment Processes
  • Groundwater Processes
  • Ecohydrology
  • Water Economics
  • Water Risk Modelling
  • Climate Hydrology
  • Water Quality
  • Fieldwork & Measuring Techniques

Career prospects

Water is one of earth's natural resources that we simply cannot do without. In addition, safe and clean water is becoming increasingly scarce as demand continues to rise all over the world. This means that highly trained water scientists will always be able to find suitable employment.

There are many ways to put your knowledge and training to good use in your professional career. You may become involved in:

  • The science aspects of water through a PhD study on a hydrological subject
  • The management of groundwater exploration
  • Flood management, studies on the effects of land management on discharge
  • Erosion and sedimentation issues and their remediation
  • Quantifying Economic effects from hydrological risk: floods, droughts and pollution
  • Using satellite imagery and GIS to work on global or regional hydrology
  • Using your knowledge professionally to improve the management of water resources

Graduates may expect to find employment in the organizations such as:

  • National and international consultancy companies
  • Universities - as PhD student or staff
  • National and provincial governmental bodies dealing with water
  • Water supply companies
  • National and international institutes for applied research and policy support
  • Water boards

Career days
The MSc Hydrology programme delivers highly trained professionals in key economic areas, including the petroleum industry, natural resources, water exploration, insurance companies and natural hazard mitigation. In order to orient towards the professional market the GeoVUsie student organisation organises Career Days for Earth Sciences (biennially). The faculty organises seminars given by people from trade and industry, which are organised throughout the year (weekly).

Specializations & field sites


In the second year, the MSc hydrology offers two specializations:

  • process hydrology studying the interaction between surface and groundwater and vegetation and the atmosphere
  • quantifying and water risk (quantitative risk & assessment modelling of hydrological impacts on society)

For both specializations, we can offer our permanent hydrological field sites near Diekirch (Luxembourg) and in Kitui (Kenya) and Kytalik (Siberia)

Process Hydrology

Credit: Ko van Huissteden

Specializing as a process hydrologist allows you to study in detail the interactions of surface and groundwater resources with landscapes, soils, vegetation and the atmosphere. Human wellbeing depends on sustainable use of healthy water. At the same time, climate and land use change and human appropriation aqre affecting water availability, the occurrence of floods and droughts, and the state of the vegetation. You will learn how to make critical observations, use satellite data and model the key interactions. Given the existing challenges on global to local scales, there is a constant demand for hydrologists in water science, climate science, exploration, and management.

Water Risks

Specializing in water risk means that you will acquire a solid understanding of the complex interactions between climate-water and societal issues such as economic damage of floods and droughts. With your insights into the underlying hydrological processes, you will be in a better position to make decisions on how to reduce water risk from floods, droughts and pollution, and provide solid advice on what measures should be implemented to reduce water risk (e.g. levees to reduce flood risk, small/large reservoirs to manage droughts or the treatment of water to reduce risks from pollution).

Global Hydrology

Increasing evaporation as a result of climate change? From Miralles et al, Nat. Clim. Change, 2014, 4: 122-126.

The increasing availability of satellite data of aspects of the hydrological cycle allows us to study the global occurrence of drought and floods while also investigating the variability of fluxes such as those of evaporation at the global scale. We have over the years developed key data sets on soil moisture and evaporation and using these to investigate the sensitivity of the global hydrological cycle to climate and climate change. Special emphasis is on the interaction of the carbon cycle and hydrology in the tropics. Contact Diego Miralles and Han Dolman.


Diekirch, Luxembourg

Credit: Frans Backer

The MSc hydrology fieldsite in Luxembourg will be used in the first year. However, it can also be used for Msc thesis work. The site is located south of the picturesque town of Diekirch. The hilly area (50-450m) is perfect for Msc research. Students work in groups of 2 to 3 persons each having their own catchment with a permanent flowing river (average length 3-4km). In these catchments, student will setup measurement to asses changes in the main component of the water cycle (infiltration, evaporation, runoff, etc). Furthermore, with our Amsterdam Water Science partner UvA, who also uses the field site for their MSc soil sciences. VU and UvA students jointly work on the hydrological interactions with geology and soil variety, vegetation cover, etc. Finally, students are challenged to describe how those processes affect (or are affected by) human influence (e.g. agriculture). Contact: Dr. Hans de Moel Kitui, Kenya
Credit: Ralph Lasage, IVM

Our permanent field site in Kenya is coordinated by Dr. Ralph Lasage and the University of Kitui, Kenya. This is an arid area, at an altitude of 1000-2000m, with frequent water shortages. The focus is on storing water underground in natural and artificial aquifers, which are named “Sand Dams”. Sand dams store water in sandy aquifers that are developed small concrete dams in ephemeral rivers. With our meteorological station and the hydrological equipment, we are able to monitor the hydrology of Sand Dams in a year round programme. Furthermore, we carry out periodic surveys among farmers , to assess whether these sand dams help the farmers with growing crops, and whether they shorten walking time to save drinking water.

Kytalik, Siberia

Credit: Roxana Petrescu, IVM

Our field site is located in the Far East Siberia, coordinated by Ko van Huissteden and Han Dolman. This is an area with snow cover and ice rich permafrost. For about 10 years we have run an eddy covariance station measuring exchange of CO2 and CH4 with the atmosphere. Transport of organic material (DOC, POC) through the streams of this highly dynamic landscapes and the role of thaw lakes in hydrology and CH4 exchange are key aspects of our research. We complement our observations with modelling studies investigating the feedback between permafrost, its GHG emissions, and climate.

Additional fieldwork sites at the interface of hydrology and vegetation studies

Under dry conditions, the combination of vegetation and an ignition source can lead to fires. Over the next years students can join field experiments in various African savanna landscape that burn frequently to estimate emissions of greenhouse gases. Fieldwork includes measuring meteorological conditions, producing airborne imagery of vegetation patterns, and taking airborne samples of smoke. These measurements can then be combined in a MSc. thesis with satellite information to understand relations between climate, soil moisture, fire, and emissions. This can be done on both local and global scales in order to improve your skills in remote sensing, GIS, and modelling. Please contact Guido van der Werf

Why VU Amsterdam?

The Dutch have over ten centuries of experience in water management because of their battle against intrusion of water in the delta of the Rhine, Meuse and Schelde rivers. For nearly 50 years, VU Amsterdam has taken pride in conducting research and teaching in hydrology and water sciences from an earth science perspective. Teaching and research in this field at VU Amsterdam enjoys an excellent reputation, both within the Netherlands and abroad. This is because the programme is small enough to facilitate personal contact between all participants, but large enough to encompass the full range of specializations within the science of hydrology.

Moreover, the MSc hydrology is part of the Amsterdam Water Science program where we closely collaborate with stakeholders and the UvA on water related courses, internships and our fieldwork site in Luxembourg.

Hydrology gives you a programme to become a modern hydrologist. Interdisciplinarity is key here, which relates to linking hydrology to various natural sciences (geology, chemistry, environmental studies) as well as social sciences (economics). This allows the development of an integrated view of complex natural systems within which our society operates.


Hydrology is an international programme. There are many foreign students eager to come to Amsterdam to study hydrology in a country well-known for its excellent management of surface and groundwater. The research we conduct has a strong international focus, both in terms of the research project, field course and in the nationalities of the students that participate in the Master’s programme. The water sciences group also has a permanent case study in Kenia, investigating the use of sand dams in semi-arid areas. Both the hydrological as well as social aspects of these dams are monitored and studied over many years with students.

Social-economic aspects
International conflicts over water and water rights are becoming more and more common. Water management is one of the main challenges of the near future. The VU Amsterdam offers you an invaluable combination of the background science that forms the basis for solving water related issues.

Admission requirements

Admission is based on a strict selection procedure. The Faculty’s Admission Board will decide upon your admission after having evaluated your complete online application.

You can gain admission to the Master’s programme in Hydrology with a Bachelor’s degree in earth sciences, geology or geography. The same applies if you have a three-year BSc in other natural sciences and technology. Additional requirements in terms of background knowledge may be required for certain specializations. Admittance to the Master’s programme in Hydrology is based on a decision taken by the Admission Board. For enquiries, please contact the MSc coordinator.

In case you wish to contact the Master's coordinator for information or advice you need to know that no rights can be derived from the reply given by the coordinator regarding your admission. Only with the “admission email” you will be officially notified about your conditional or unconditional admission.

Language Requirements

VU Amsterdam also requires all applicants to take an English test. You can, however, begin your application without having the test results. Please be aware of the fact that it can take a long time to receive the results of English proficiency tests, so plan your test on time! In case you haven’t taken a test yet, we advise you to plan a test date as soon as possible.

Below you will find the minimum English test scores for the Hydrology programme:
IELTS (academic):
Minimum Overall Band Score 6.5

Paper-based test 580
Internet-based test 92

Cambridge English:
Cambridge Advanced Exam A, B, C
Cambridge Proficiency Exam A, B, C

Copies of your English test results can be sent to the following addresses:

  • For Dutch degree holders:
  • For non-Dutch degree holders: Please refer to the Language Requirements webpage for the general requirements regarding language proficiency.


If you have read the admission criteria and feel you are eligible for admission, please take the following steps to submit your application. Note that the initial application procedure is fully online and that scans of your relevant documents are required.

Step 1: Meet admission criteria

Step 2: Prepare documents and apply online

For international applications, please prepare the following documents. You can find an explanation of each document on the application page. All documents should be provided in English.

  • Copy of your valid passport or ID (only for EU residents)
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Letter of Motivation
  • Transcript (Provide a certified translation if it is not in English)
  • A description of the relevant courses you have taken during your previous higher education
  • A list of all the main literature used during your previous higher education
  • Thesis (or another sample of academic writing, at lest 5 pages plus a list of used literature)
  • 2 Letters of Recommendation

After having prepared the required documents, please follow the online application procedure. Once you have completed the application, our international student advisors will contact you via email.

Step 3: Await decision on admission
The admission board will review your application as soon as it is complete. Normally this takes about four weeks, but it might take longer in busy periods so be sure to apply as soon as possible. If you are admitted, you will receive a letter of conditional admission by email. You can start planning your move to Amsterdam!

Step 4: Finalize your registration and move to Amsterdam!
Make sure to finalize your registration as a student before the start of the programme. Here you will find an explanation about what to do after admission. When all conditions of your admission have been met, you will be ready to start your programme at VU Amsterdam!
You can read more about practical matters and starting your studies in the Netherlands in our ‘Getting Started’ guide.

Overview Hydrology.

  • Language of instruction: English
  • Duration: 2 years
  • Application deadline: 1 June for Dutch and EU-students. 1 April for non-EU-students.
  • Start date: 1 September
  • Study type: Full-time
  • Specializations: Process Hydrology and Water Risks
  • Field of interest: Natural Sciences

Last updated Nov 2019

About the School

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is an internationally renowned research university founded in 1880. The university offers over 150 English taught programmes at Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD level to 23,00 ... Read More

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is an internationally renowned research university founded in 1880. The university offers over 150 English taught programmes at Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD level to 23,000 students from all over the world. Students and staff of 130 nationalities create a dynamic international academic community. The University distinguishes itself in research and education through four interdisciplinary themes: Human Health and Life Sciences, Science for Sustainability, Connected World and Governance for Society. Read less