Cees van Rhee Passed Away, a Visionary Leader for the Dredging Community

Cees van Rhee at the TU Delft Dredging Technology Laboratory (Credit: TU Delft)
Cees van Rhee at the TU Delft Dredging Technology Laboratory (Credit: TU Delft)

This is an article I didn’t want to write. My professor Cees van Rhee passed away last weekend1. This was devastating news for his family and all those who surrounded him at the TU Delft. Cees was still enjoying life, he died doing his favourite hobby: fishing. Always looking ahead, he was determined to be my promotor for my PhD. project. I know him already so long. When he was doing his PhD. project, I was graduating on my masters in the same lab. It would be fitting to be his last PhD. student. Fate has decided differently. As he was a public figure, you will receive in the news probably some factual biographies about him2. But he was so much a person to me, that I want to highlight some of his thoughts and contemplations for you.

When Cees assumed his position as dredging professor3, he set three goals to work on:

  1. Bring the department of dredging engineering under a single faculty
  2. Improve the quality of research and education
  3. Make the dredging community conscious of designing equipment for performance

He managed to merge the civil engineering branch and the mechanical engineering branch of the dredging engineering department as one of his first feats as new professor. The second goal can be sensed from the enormous increase in publications during his tenure4. And not only in the usual dredging literature, but also in highly regarded scientific journals. A standard he also imposed on my own PhD. project. The final goal is a real dot on the horizon and is therefore harder to achieve. He engaged with the rest of the dredging community through his numerous activities for the CEDA. Bringing his academic perspective to the industry.

In response to the drivers for dredging: population growth, transport demand and sea level rise, he saw the following challenges:

  1. Continuous innovation to stay ahead of the competition
  2. Re-allocation of labour for the manufacturing of equipment
  3. Understanding the dredging processes on a fundamental level
  4. Development of AI for supporting optimal operation

These challenges are still valid and are a sign of his visionary academic approach to dredging. Most of the research are contributing to solve these challenges. As a leader of the department of Dredging Engineering he lead his colleagues into a solid self-supporting team of specialists. I think we are still in a good position to tackle the challenges, but have to be careful to maintain this advantage.

Cees left a legacy of a high academic standard for dredging engineering. Torn away from life and so many projects ongoing, there will be a lot of loose ends to tie. And I am proud, that I can be part of it. When I approached him for my PhD. plans, he suggested to follow certain ideas that have been slumbering around, but were dormant because by now everybody uses finite element applications to study those problems. He was really happy that I came along with my old school analytic competences to pick up that gauntlet. I have some promising preliminary results already. And I am so sorry, he will never be there to enjoy the results that confirm he was onto something good.

We will all miss you. Thank you Cees.

Cees van Rhee welcoming the audience at the 2019 CEDA Dredging Days (Credit: CEDA)
Cees van Rhee welcoming the audience at the 2019 CEDA Dredging Days (Credit: CEDA)


  1. In Loving Memory of Prof. dr. ir. Cees van Rhee, LinkedIn
  2. In Loving Memory of Prof. dr. ir. Cees van Rhee, CEDA
  3. Over grensvlakken en het verleggen van grenzen, TU Delft
  4. Cees van Rhee, ResearchGate

See also

Personal Announcement: Going Back To School To Cut Some Clay

Learning early or later in life, studying is always a joy when you make it practical
Learning early or later in life, studying is always a joy when you make it practical

‘Never too old to learn’ is my motto. Everyday I look around me and I wonder how this beautiful world fits together. Whether it be the stars in the sky, the waves at sea or life as we know it, there is always something to be learned about it. At school, I was not a great pupil, but I was always curious to learn more. For my master thesis at the Delft University of Technology, I investigated the performance of a dredge and made recommendations to improve its operation1. As the project was more focussed on mixture forming (and turbidity) and the redesign of the auger head, there was no attention for the soil mechanics involved in the cutting process.

Fully covered cutter head in sticky clay

Now is the time to get that straight. In my daily business, I came across several projects where the clay cutting was a real problem. This was one of the triggers that sparked my interest in sticky clay and made me pursue a more detailed investigation into this nasty stuff. I am very grateful my management was willing to grant me time to go back to the university and start a PhD project with professor Cees van Rhee to learn more about clay.

Synthesis of clay and the relevant properties for dredging

Clay is a completely different material than sand or rock. Those are either plastic and non-cohesive or elastic and cohesive. Clay is the worst of both worlds: plastic and cohesive. It can be described with certain soil parameters as e.g. undrained shear strength and internal friction angle. The failure model is based on Mohr’s circle etc. But those are all continuum approaches2. When you zoom in to the particle level of clay, a whole new world opens up. I already wrote about the interesting particle interaction in a previous post3.

Boltzmann strain rate function in clay cutting
Boltzmann strain rate function in clay cutting

It appears, that the consistency, deformation and failure of clay is related to the tiny electric charges distributed over the platelet crystals. The movement along the charges needs energy. The model to describe dislocation energies along electric charges has been studied by Ludwig Boltzmann4,5. His model governs a wide range of applications, ranging from cosmology to particle physics. I really plunged into the deep end of science with just simple clay. It already took some time to get my head around the concepts involved. Slowly it dawns on my what possibilities there are to improve our understanding of the cutting of clay and possibly to improve our products eventually.

Gallery of my dredging professors (l) prof. de Koning, (m) prof. Vlasblom, (r) prof. van Rhee
Gallery of my dredging professors (l) prof. de Koning, (m) prof. Vlasblom, (r) prof. van Rhee

My ‘old professor’ de Koning was a proponent of ‘thinking with your hands’6. Professor Vlasbom encouraged me to graduate on a practical problem and also my current professor van Rhee suggested to do some preliminary experiments with sticky stuff to get some feeling about what I am going to study. Of course I took some clay home to play with it. But the best suggestion was by my colleagues, who thoughtfully gave me stroopwafels7. The ultimate representation of sticky non-Newtonian stuff between layers of latticed disks.

Fresh supply of stroopwafels for practice and celebration
Fresh supply of stroopwafels for practice and celebration


  1. Presenting Pump Power Peculiarities, Playing With Pumps And Pipes, Discover Dredging
  2. The Cutting of Sand, Clay and Rock – Soil Mechanics (6041), TU Delft
  3. The Origin of Clay, When Dredging Becomes Sticky, Discover Dredging
  4. New Developments Of Cutting Theories With Respect To Dredging The Cutting Of Clay, SA Miedema
  5. Ludwig Boltzmann, Wikipedia
  6. Experience the Dredging Experience
  7. Stroopwafel, Wikipedia

See also

Graduation Gijs Ter Meulen: Drag Analysis And Model For Forces And Production

Gijs proudly presenting his MSc. certificate.

We have another bright new MSc. engineer in dredging technology1: Gijs ter Meulen. Tuesday, he presented and defended his thesis on the forces and production of a trailing suction head. For this thesis project he was working at our research and development department at Damen Dredging Equipment2.

Trailing suction hopper dredges have become the tool of the trade for modern dredging contractors. They are versatile, flexible and able to transport sand over great distances. They load their cargo in their holds, by sucking up the sediment from the sea bottom with a big trailing suction head. This head looks like an out of size vacuum cleaner head.

Typical drag head on a railing suction hopper dredge.

Usually, it is very difficult to comprehend what is going on in and around the drag head. There is some laboratory research done, but not all results are freely available. Other knowledge is solely based on the experience of well-seasoned dredge masters. I do have respect for the experience of dredge masters, but their stories are hardly usable for an academic model description. So, Gijs took on the challenge to piece together a model, that satisfies our curiosity and fits with the experiences.

Concise development of the drag head model by Gijs ter Meulen.

For this project, he identified several steps, which we briefly touch upon here:

  1. The processes and forces around the drag head3 were all investigated on their cause and effect.
  2. A model was set up, where each process and their interaction with the others were identified.
  3. One main process in the drag head is the jetting production. A powerful jet of water is injected into the soil and this erodes part of the sediment under the drag head4.
  4. Another main process is the cutting production5. What is not eroded away by the jets, is removed by the teeth at the back of the visor.
  5. As the contribution of the processes to the forces and the production is known, the total performance can be calculated.

Along the way, this gave us very useful insight in the capabilities of the drag head and the trailing system, all the way to the requirements for the propulsion. Now, we will be able to continue to improve our drag heads even further. Any other students who would like to participate in that project are welcome to contact us5.

Gijs takes a new step in his career path. He is going to work for a well esteemed customer of us, so we will see him around in the dredging industry. Thanks Gijs, bon voyage!

Gijs, good luck with your future career in dredging.


  1. MSc Offshore & Dredging Engineering, TU Delft
  2. Innovation, Damen Dredging Equipment
  3. Designing Dredging Equipment [OE4671], Vlasblom
  4. Sand erosion with a traversing circular jet, Robert Weegenaar
  5. The Cutting of Sand, Dredging Engineering
  6. Internships, Damen Dredging Equipment

See also