Book Review: The World In A Grain

Cover page The World In A Grain by Vince Beiser.

Last Saturday, a special Dutch season started: Sinterklaas1. He traditionally arrives in a steam ship in some camera pleasing port and starts his tour through the country. Eventually he commemorates his name day (December 6th) by leaving presents for all children on the eve before. Usually this is celebrated with children and/or parents giving each other presents in elaborate packaging and clumsy rhymes. So, this might be a good occasion to recommend a book for your wish list.

Somewhere I found a copy of ‘The World in a Grain’ by Vince Beiser2. Actually, it was the subtitle, ‘The Story of Sand and How It Transformed Civilization’ that caught my attention. As you may have noticed, I am very interested in sand. And, it is good, to occasionally take a step back and contemplate how our product contributes to civilisation and the world as we know it.

Photo of American-Canadian journalist Vince Beiser (Credit: Wikipedia).

Vince Beiser3 is an American-Canadian journalist and the book is easy to read. The chapters are arranged to the subject where sand is coming from and its contribution to society. Beginning with the origin of sand, the erosion of rock, and the locations where it ends up and can be extracted. The most basic application of sand is construction sand to create infrastructure: reclaimed land, ballast material for roads and railways, general landscaping etc. Than, the applications become more refined: concrete, asphalt, fracking, foundries, glass making, eventually all the way to high end products as computer chips and smart phones. Each application requiring its own type of sand.

Soil sample exhibit at the Damen Dredging Experience.

Proceeding through the book, you will be surprised about how dependent we’ve become on such a small unit of our universe. And that is exactly where Beiser is alarming us about. Not only that at some point in the future, sand will become a scarce commodity, it already is. As with all scarce materials, they become precious and attract activity that is not always benefitting all stakeholders. This usually involves violence and crime. And Beiser has been exploring this dark side of the trade for his book.

His experience as criminal-justice journalist has helped him to uncover social injustice, where some greedy individuals were profiting from resources that ought to serve the wellbeing of all mankind. Beautiful beaches that have been scooped away. Rivers that changed their course and deprived communities from irrigation. Pastoral landscape, that was torn up and left behind devastated. He visited some sites and spoke to victims and activists. At some occasions, he was even threatened himself.

Progressing through the book, I even felt ashamed that I was taking part in an industry that allegedly rapes nature and deprives future generations of their rightful heritage. He reported severe cases from undeveloped countries, but even well-known names in our dredging industry have been mentioned. According to Beiser, there is no direct solution, as the demand is still on the rise, but I think there is: cooperation in governance. Share with others the experience on sand mining, the market possibilities and communicate with all stakeholders involved. Personally, I am involved in CEDA4, but there are many more platforms: IADC, EuDA, EMSAGG, PIANC etc. And as always: think about what you are doing and what does it leave future generations with.

OK, one last bonus link for those who don’t like reading a whole book. I think the producers of the Dutch children’s TV show ‘Buitendienst’5, last Friday, have been reading this book also.

Het grote zandmysterie (Credit: De Buitendienst).

References

  1. Sinterklaas, Wikipedia
  2. The World in a Grain, Amazon
  3. Vince Beiser, Wikipedia
  4. Dredging Management Commission, CEDA
  5. Het grote zandmysterie, NPO Zapp

See also

CEDA DMC Presentation On Dredging Innovations In Gdansk

Group photo of delegates attending the combined meeting of CEDA CEC & DMC and MIG on dredging in Baltic Ports. (Credit: CEDA)

Because of other activities these last weeks, my promised post about the DMC presentation had some delay. On October 10th, there was a symposium together with the Marine Institute Gdansk and the CEDA Environmental Commission and the CEDA Dredging Management Commission supported by Gdansk Science and Technology Park and the Baltic Ports Organisation1. The topic of the symposium was ‘Advances in Dredging Technology. My contribution was a presentation as DMC member2 on ‘Dredging technology developments versus requirements’.

Presenting the innovations in dredging technology. (Credit: CEDA)

Although dredging sounds like an old rusty trade, in fact, it is in constant movement and highly innovative when experienced from the inside. At the Dredging Management Commission, we have a separate focus group, that investigates the technological solutions that enable the stakeholders to efficiently manage a dredging project. A lot of ‘booby traps’ in the ‘Checklist For Successful Dredging Management’3 can be handled by applying the right technology. If there are issues with turbidity, e.g. one can apply a component as the ‘Plumigator®’4 attachment for the overflow in a trailing suction hopper dredge to comply with turbidity clauses in the contract. If the project has very narrow allowances for positioning, modern survey and control systems allow surgical precision dredging, to reduce overdredging and corresponding penalties.

All in all, we’ve identified more than 70 innovation over the last ten years, that have found a foothold in the dredging industry. These have been categorised to the field of technology: Components, Equipment, Industries, Initiatives, Methodology, Processes, Systems, Tools. Other descriptions that we’ve attributed to these innovations were their contribution in solving certain problems in dredging management, as they are found in the checklist. And how much effort they require and how much benefit they would yield. These last items are very subjective and still open for debate. More to follow later. But, at least the procedure can be laid out to recommend the best options for tackling certain problems in the ‘checklist.

Fields of technology and contributions to improvements in dredging management. (Credit: CEDA)

We had a good discussion at the symposium about this topic and from the other focus groups (contract management, checklist, etc.). There were also cross-over opportunities with the CEDA Environmental Commission. At least, there are enough leads, that can be used for the next CEDA Dredging Days in Rotterdam.

As an illustration of the long way we’ve came in the dredging industry, the conference room in the control centre of the Port of Gdansk5, was decorated with interesting pictures from the construction of the port.

Historic pictures of dredging works at the construction of the Port of Gdansk.

References

  1. CEDA-MIG Joint Symposium on Advances in Dredging Technology 2018 Supported by GSTP and BPO, MIG
  2. Dredging Management Commission, CEDA
  3. New CEDA paper encourages all parties to dredging contracts to start thinking and keep thinking, CEDA
  4. Plumigator, IHC
  5. Port of Gdansk

See also

A Visit to the Oresund Link with the CEDA Dredging Management Commission and 23 Years Ago with DOT

The CEDA Dredging Management Commission on site visit at the Oresund Link

Edit (11/08/2018): It appears, that my memory fails me on the details. It must have been late 1996 or early 1997.

This week, there was a meeting of the Dredging Management Commission of the CEDA. In this case, the venue was the offices of Femern A/S in Copenhagen1. The objective of the Dredging Management Commission is to provide expertise and guidelines to successfully manage dredging projects. A first publication was the ‘Checklist for Successful Dredging Management’ introduced at the CEDA Dredging Days last November. Currently I am involved in the Working Group on Innovative Dredging Technology2.
One of the items on the agenda was a visit to the artificial island of Peberholm. This island was reclaimed in 1995 during the Oresund Link Project, a tunnel and bridge connection that links Denmark and Sweden over the Oresund. A massive complex project, involving two countries, multiple contractors and numerous suppliers. Unlike most of the complex international government projects, the Oresund Link was delivered ahead of schedule and within budget3.

View from Peberholm on the Oresund Bridge and Sweden

At the time, I did my graduation thesis project with Skanska, one of the main contractors. There were also two other students working with Skanska. And as there were a lot of other Dutch contractors involved, the student club of Dredging and Offshore Technology organised a study tour to the project and have a first-hand experience with this landmark project. Returning to these sites with the CEDA was interesting to see the final product after it’s been working for several year in use.

Students of Dredging and Offshore Technology on study tour in 1995

On the Swedish side, a bridge was a good solution. On the Danish side, the link would be too close, to Copenhagen International Airport to build a bridge. It would interfere with the flight path of approaching planes. Therefore, a sunken section tunnel was chosen. Peberholm was created with fill material, dredged from this tunnel trench. Digging through hard limestone rock, the cutter suction dredge ‘Castor’4 consumed about 62,000 pick points. In the end, they had to exchange all the teeth every 15 minutes, sometimes too hot to handle.

Cutter head of the CSD ‘Castor’

Each pillar and the two pylons of the bridge have a foundation that reaches to the hard bedrock of the Oresund. For this dredging work, amongst others, the back-hoe dredge ‘Rocky’5 from Skanska was deployed. One of the contractual clauses was that turbidity had to be reduced to an absolute minimum, never seen before in any contract. Although protesting, the contractors complied and did a great job on reducing turbidity. The loose material from the bottom and the rubble from the bedrock created visual plumes anyway and Skanska had to modify their procedures and equipment to reach the stringent standards.

Left, Back hoe dredge ‘Rocky’. Middle, bucket of crushed limestone. Right, Spill plume.

It was fitting, that we visited the location of this impressive project as inspiration to advice how to successfully manage a dredging project. The next step to test the management skills of the Danish people will be the Fehmarn Belt Project6.

Panoramic view from Peberholm. Denmark left, Sweden right and Saltholm in the middle.

References

  1. Femern A/S
  2. CEDA Dredging Management Commission, CEDA
  3. Oresund on time and within budget, Øresundsbron
  4. Castor, Van Oord
  5. Rocky (after modification), Boskalis
  6. Fehmarn Belt Project, Wikipedia

See also