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Ebb and Flood Channel Systems in the Netherlands Tidal Waters


Johan van Veen

Introduced, annotated and translated by Hans Bonekamp, Edwin Elias, Anneke Hibma, Co van de Kreeke, Mattijs van Ledden, Dano Roelvink, Henk Schuttelaars, Huib de Vriend, Zheng-Bin Wang, Ad van der Spek, Marcel Stive and Tjerk Zitman.

2002 / 32 p. / ISBN 978-90-407-2338-4 / Euro 6.50

Ebook ISBN 9789065622280

ISBN 9040723389


Johan van Veen was a man of wide interests. Although he was trained as a civil engineer, he took interest in and published on a variety of subjects, such as historical geography, geology, land reclamation, climate, land subsidence, sampling equipment, etc. He worked with Rijkswaterstaat, the national water-management authority of The Netherlands, for most of his career. Van Veen was an unorthodox scientist with enormous energy. The editors compiled a reference list of almost 50 papers. Moreover, Van Veen laid the basis for the development of several instruments, e.g. the Van Veen grab sampler, automatically registering current meters, and the electrical Analogon (a computer for tidal calculations that used the principles of electric currents). Van Veen was also one of the first scientists to recognize the importance and possibilities of the echo sounder. His suggestions in the early 1930s contributed to the development of this instrument. Van Veen's character can be described as resourceful, untiring, persistent and even headstrong. His strongly developed sense of responsibility, in combination with little patience with officialdom, led to conflicts with his superiors at Rijkswaterstaat. These conflicts have overshadowed his great contributions to the disciplines of coastal dynamics and coastal engineering.

Van Veen started out investigating the tidal motion, sediment transport and changes in chlorine content in the Dutch estuaries and tidal inlets, and along the adjacent coast, making use of extensive measurements of discharges, sand motion and density profiles. The purpose of this research was getting to know the natural dynamics in the estuaries, in order to understand the system and to be able to improve the conditions for navigation (Van Veen, 1956). A major issue discussed by van Veen was sediment supply to the Netherlands coast. A first synopsis of his knowledge is given in his thesis "Onderzoekingen in de Hoofden in verband met de gesteldheid der Nederlandse kust" (Research in the Dover Straits in relation to the condition of the Netherlands coast), which he defended in Leiden in 1936. Van Veen was awarded the gold medal of the "Bataafsch Genootschap voor proefondervindelijke Wijsbegeerte" (Batavian Society for empirical Philosophy) for his thesis. The influence of his supervisor, the geologist G.B. Escher, is reflected in his interdisciplinary research approach. Van Veen combined disciplines such as field study, laboratory experiments, historical studies, etc., to get an overview as wide as possible and to be able to find practical solutions to various water-management problems. The experts in those fields did not always appreciate his concern with disciplines other than his own. There are many examples of debates, discussions and replies in the literature.

The present paper, "Eb- en vloedschaarsystemen in de Nederlandse getijwateren" (Ebb- and flood-channel systems in the Dutch tidal waters), which was published in 1950, should be considered as Van Veen's most important publication since his thesis. It summarizes the results of 20 years of intensive study of estuarine and tidal-basin morphodynamics in The Netherlands. The paper is testimony to Van Veen's keen observational and artistic skills. His approach is nearly "Da Vincian" in the sense that he is not only a fascinated but also sharp observer of nature and tries to capture the essentials of the dynamic behavior of complex coastal systems in apparently simple sketches. Many of the natural systems that Van Veen studied have been regulated since; thus, this paper contains a set of irreplaceable, high-quality observations on the natural dynamics of tidal systems. Along with Robinson's (1960) paper on ebb-flood channel systems, it forms an excellent introduction to the study of channel dynamics in estuaries, tidal inlets, and tidal basins.

Unfortunately, Van Veen's paper was published in Dutch, with only a brief summary in English. Luckily, the figure captions were given in both Dutch and English, allowing international researchers coming across the paper to read it as a kind of 'cartoon'. Understandably though, the paper has received very limited recognition in the international literature. So far, the editors traced only 8 publications in which reference is made to this paper (see the reference list on page 53). The majority of these publications have Dutch-speaking (co-)authors. Geyl, one of these authors, gives an extensive summary of van Veen's results in his 1976 paper, conscious of the obscurity of the original paper. Ludwick (1972) refers to an English translation of Van Veen's paper that we have not been able to trace. Usually, reference is made to Van Veen's paper to define ebb- and flood channels in estuaries and tidal inlets. However, his paper contains much more information that should be available to the international research community. Translation of this paper has been the subject of several discussions between Graham Evans, formerly of Imperial College, London, and one of us (AvdS). Until recently, a translation was not undertaken, however.

The present publication is a tribute to Professor Kees d'Angremond, who retired on November 28, 2001, from the chair of Coastal Engineering (Faculty of Civil Engineering and Geosciences) at Delft University of Technology. We have seized this occasion to publish an English version of Van Veen's paper.

PDF file:

For lecturers: on request a complete set of pictures from the book can be provided. Please, send an e-mail to hlf@vssd.nl to arrange details, such as digital specifications, means of data transport etc.

Netherlands Centre for Coastal Research


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Updated: 27th January 2010, hlf@vssd.nl