Don’t rock the boat, don’t tip the boat over

DOP Dredge ‘Roanoke’, Long Island, USA

We were quietly enjoying our dinner on a relaxed evening in our vacation. Suddenly, we were rudely disturbed by rumble and clatter from across the valley. For our eyes developed a rock slide. Just as sudden as it started it was already over. Perplexed, we were too slow to capture the event and put it on social media. Afterwards, I took some pictures of the rubble. As you can see, it was not even a proper rock slide, more the collapse of a retaining wall.

Retaining wall collapse, Sóller, Mallorca, Spain, June 21, 2018

Come to think about it, it was not the first collapse I witnessed. Back in 2006, I was visiting our DOP dredge at Roanoke on Long Island, NY in the USA. I had to do some measurements and general inspection. I was below decks connecting the data recorder to the drive system and had to check something with the dredge master. Just when I climbed on deck, he yelled at me to hold on. Immediately a torrent of water and sand was flung horizontally over the dredge. Some stones cracked a window in the control cabin. Within seconds a tsunami lifted the dredge for about a meter and we kept rocking until the reflecting waves in the pit eventually subsided.

DOP Dredge Roanoke with pit bank in the foreground, before it collapsed. Older bank collapses in the background.

That was one big bank collapse to me. A bank collapse is a known, although undesirable phenomenon in dredging1. It is a result of dredging methods, relying on the development of an active bank to produce a heavy slurry, that is sucked up. However, the sediment does not consist of a uniform block of sand. Usually, the sediment is deposited in different layers, each with their own geo technical properties. These result in varying propagation velocities of the active banks. When a ‘faster’ sand is under a ‘slower’ sand, the upper layer is not supported anymore and collapses. As the bank slumps down, it displaces an enormous volume of water and this often causes a tidal wave of its own. At Roanoke, the effects were aggravated by the fact, that the upper bank ran all the way to above water level.

Progression of an active bank and bank collapse

As this bank collapse can be expected when dredging with active banks and different sand layers, dredging companies are very keen on predicting these nasty consequences. Not only for the safe working condition of the crew, but also to prevent material damage and eventually for a stable and reliable delivered profile. Exactly this is what is being investigated by dr. Askarinejad in the Laboratory of Geo-Engineering at the Technical University Delft2. He has a beautiful rig, where exactly those conditions can be simulated and measured. With a neat trick he tips the whole test facility to form an instable bank. This makes the bank collapse on demand3.

Static liquefaction tank TU Delft (Credit: dr. A. Askarinejad)

Basically, this is exactly what we can demonstrate with the ‘breaching exhibit ‘ in our dredging experience4. Of course you are welcome to come over. For those who are not in the circumstance to visit us, you can also visit the National Dredging Museum as they now have a breaching exhibit of their own5.

Handover of our old breaching exhibit to the National Dredging Museum


  1. Breaching Process OE 4626, van Rhee, TU Delft
  2. Amin Askarinejad, TU Delft
  3. Statische liquefactietank , Delft Integraal
  4. Loose sand, how hard can it be?
  5. Baggermuseum krijgt model van Damen Dredging, Binnenvaartkrant

See also

Loose Sand, How Hard Can it Be?

Breaching exhibit at the Damen Dredging Experience

Did you ever tried to build a sand castle? Probably yes. Felt frustrated it always collapsed unexpectedly? At least I did when I was a child. But it took me an academic study to know why. Lucky you. You just have to read this blog post and experience a moment of enlightenment. So, this is good moment to stand up and get some coffee. You will enjoy reading it more and remember my lecture every moment you take a sip.

The second exhibit in the Damen Dredging Experience is an installation, which we call: ‘the Bank’. Usually there is some mechanical or hydraulic action, that will cause the sediment, to become unstable. In this exhibit, we can turn the little wheel at the lower right corner. The first thing you will notice is that at the higher end of the soil surface, the grains will slightly move and start to tumble down along the slope. Where the activation of the particles start at the slope is called the active bank.

Breaching the bank and density flow

The effect we would like to demonstrate, is that different soil types, do have different behaviour in this process. There are three different soil types, from course to fine, from the front to the back. The finer material at the back seams to stay the longest at rest. This is due to a phenomenon that we call ‘dilatancy’1. If a stack of grains is sheared, they have to hobble over the tops of the layer below.

Under pressure due to dilatency on a shear plane

When the grains do hopscotch over each other, they require more space to do so. Effectively the pores increase in volume and the total sediment expands. The extra space cannot be accommodated for by expanding water, it has to be replenished. The extra water has to come from the outside. But the grains themselves are in the way and form resistance to the incoming water. The resistance causes a differential pressure under the ambient pressure, commonly known as ‘vacuum’. And grains under vacuum tend to cling together and form chunks. This happens mostly, when the pores are small, or when the grains are small. Exactly what you can see in the exhibit.

Once the sediment is loosened from the active bank, it rolls down the slope, it behaves like a dense fluid, driven by gravity2. When the slope becomes less, or the running fluid encounters resistance, the sediment will settle again at the so called ‘passive bank’.

Outflow of density current and sedimentation

Here the reverse process happens, the water has more trouble getting out of the suspended flow and run longer. The passive slope will be flatter at finer grains than in more coarse material.

Both processes can be identified in e.g. the DOP3. It is usually suspended on a wire and lowered onto the seabed. Powerful jets excavate a small pit where the suction head takes up the suspended material. The walls of the pit become unstable as an active bank. The loose material flows into the pit. This turns into a continuous process and the active bank, runs away from the suction pit.

Breaching and density flow in a DOP process

Now, it is immediately evident, why DOP pumps have this characteristic suction pipe. It fits snugly in the pit and has the least resistance for the incoming density flow. Another benefit of the suction tube, is that if the bank collapses on the DOP, the suction pipe can be extracted without too much trouble. Extracting a pump from under a collapsed bank imposes the same trouble as creating a passive bank: suction due to dilatancy.

So, your sand castle collapses when water enters the pores. A demonstration of grains becoming as strong as a concrete block by under pressure is a well-known household phenomenon: vacuum packed coffee. Now, you will think of this, whenever you open a new pack of coffee.

Vacuum packed coffee is stable due to under pressure in the pores


  1. Dilatancy, Wikipedia
  2. Density current, Wikipedia
  3. DOP pumps, Damen

See also

Memorable Moments of the Bucket Ladder Dredge ‘Karimata’

Model of the tin bucket ladder dredge ‘Karimata’ in the National Dredging Museum

This weekend, I took my family out for a day at the National Dredging Museum. A great place to experience the history, the physics, the industry and the interesting stories from the people who made the Netherlands the great dredging nation of today. As museums go, they also have a lot of models of old, new and important dredging equipment. One particular model had my interest: the tin bucket ladder dredge ‘Karimata’ form the mining company Biliton.

This particular model used to be part of the collection of the Delft University of Technology. It was standing in the hall between the dredging laboratory, where we received our lectures from professor ‘de Koning’ and the coffee room where we drank hot chocolate in the coffee break. Passing this exhibit, sometimes he would pause and tell an interesting story, or explain how nice the specific kinematics of a bucket ladder dredge is able to cut cohesive clay, or remind us of the difficulty of keeping the ladder correctly oriented in the bank. During a rationalisation of the available floor area and the ‘required educational space’, the model moved to museum.1

Professor de Koning (Credit: CEDA)

The ‘Karimata’ was designed as a floating mining factory. The front side of the dredge was the normal bucket ladder dredge to remove the tin containing sediment or overburden from the mining pit. Usually the dredge started at the shoreline, creating its own pool. Overburden and tailings were discharged behind the dredge through those long chutes at the back. Valuable ore was separated in the refinery at the second half of the pontoon. Cyclones and jigs densified the ore2 and removed the tailings. Eventually, the ore could be loaded on barges alongside the dredge.

Picture of the ‘Karimata’ (Credit: Nationaal Baggermuseum)

Before the ‘Karimata’ was transported to the customer, the dredge had to be commissioned and tested. Normally, such an operation is usually done in a well-defined environment like the ‘Haringvliet’ or ‘Hollands Diep’. This time, however, a more challenging job was proposed. In 1799, the ‘HMS Lutine’ was sailing north of Terschelling. The ship was used for an enormous gold transport in bullion and coins. Unfortunately, the severe storm sank the vessel and only one crew member survived. The gold treasure was still there. Over time, several attempts were made to recover the gold. In 1938, most of it was still not recovered3. The ‘Karimata’ was set on a mission to recover the rest. Eventually, the commissioning was successful4, but only one bar of gold was found and the endeavour was called off. ‘Karimata’ was sent to her customer and used until her end5 in 1953.

And the remaining treasure of ‘HMS Lutine’? Well I think, the villains in the adventure comic of ‘Captain Rob and the Seven Star Stones’ seized it and none is left.

Captain Rob and the Seven Star Stones (Credit: Erven J.P. Kuhn)

These bucket ladder dredges were successfully used to mine and process tin. Even in the seventies(?) several of these vessels were ordered by a Malaysian company. During a visit in 1995, they were still operating there in a tin mining pit. For the commissioning of those dredges, a consultant was hired to perform some specific measurements on the vessel. As a token of gratitude, he received a big poster of the dredge. After cleaning out his office at his retirement, I received this poster and it has decorated my office ever since.

Poster of an unknown Malaysian tin bucket ladder dredge


  1. Deed of donation, National Dredging Museum
  2. The problem of jigging tin ore, Ports and Dredging nr.47
  3. HMS Lutine
  4. Strain Measurements on Gold-Seeking Tin Dredge Established Basis for Scientific Solution of Dredging Problems, Ports and Dredging nr.10
  5. E.B. 22 Karimata, DredgePoint

See also