Hydrology is the study of the movement, distribution, and quality of water throughout the Earth.
Domains of hydrology include hydrometeorology, surface hydrology, hydrogeology, drainage basin management and water quality, where water plays the central role.
Hydrology has been a subject of investigation and engineering for millennia. For example, in about 4000 B.C. the Nile was dammed to improve agricultural productivity of previously barren lands. Mesopotamian towns were protected from flooding with high earthen walls. Aqueducts were built by the Greeks and Ancient Romans, while the History of China shows they built irrigation and flood control works. The ancient Sinhalese used hydrology to build complex irrigation Works in Sri Lanka, also known for invention of the Valve Pit which allowed construction of large reservoirs, anicuts and canals which still function.
Marcus Vitruvius, in the first century B.C., described a philosophical theory of the hydrologic cycle, in which precipitation falling in the mountains infiltrated the earth's surface and led to streams and springs in the lowlands. With adoption of a more scientific approach, Leonardo da Vinci and Bernard Palissy independently reached an accurate representation of the hydrologic cycle. It was not until the 17th century that hydrologic variables began to be quantified.
Pioneers of the modern science of hydrology include Pierre Perrault, Edme Mariotte and Edmund Halley. By measuring rainfall, runoff, and drainage area, Perrault showed that rainfall was sufficient to account for flow of the Seine. Marriotte combined velocity and river cross-section measurements to obtain discharge, again in the Seine. Halley showed that the evaporation from the Mediterranean Sea was sufficient to account for the outflow of rivers flowing into the sea.
Advances in the 18th century included the Bernoulli piezometer and Bernoulli's equation, by Daniel Bernoulli, the Pitot tube. The 19th century saw development in groundwater hydrology, including Darcy's law, the Dupuit-Thiem well formula, and Hagen-Poiseuille's capillary flow equation.
Rational analyses began to replace empiricism in the 20th century, while governmental agencies began their own hydrological research programs. Of particular importance were Leroy Sherman's unit hydrograph, the infiltration theory of Robert E. Horton, and C.V. Theis's Aquifer test/equation describing well hydraulics.
Since the 1950's, hydrology has been approached with a more theoretical basis than in the past, facilitated by advances in the physical understanding of hydrological processes and by the advent of computers and especially Geographic Information Systems.