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

Celebration: One Year Of Discover Dredging

Celebrating a memorable day with my favourite traditional stroopwaffles

Today is a day to celebrate and I usually celebrate special occasions with traditional Dutch stroopwaffles. It was one year ago, that I introduced my website Discover Dredging to the public1. There was one ‘unofficial’ post before2, but the announcement for the CEDA Dredging Days was seen thousands of times on LinkedIn and served as a grand opening of my own website. Really, it is my own personal stage to tell stories on dredging. I felt the compulsion to share my experience and events with a wider audience. With the blessing of Olivier Marcus, our Director Product Group Dredging, I was encouraged to set up my  website and start telling bits and bobs about the details of dredging.

At the Hydro 2018 conference in Gdansk, Poland, together with Olivier Marcus

It really is in my job description to share knowledge on dredging. Not only for my colleagues, but also for clients, students and general public. For sure the presentations that I have given at conferences are fun to do and are serious projects to execute. But there are so many little things to discover in dredging. My personal website provides me freedom and flexibility to post my own topics at my own pace.

Selection of topics on soil mechanics for dredging (PSD, CPT, SPT, Clay)

Topics I really like, are the ones, where I can explain part of the dredging process in a simple way. The soil mechanics series comes to mind. But dredge pumps and drives are also a favourite topic for me. Often these topics are related to frequently asked questions I receive in my daily job. The posts now offer me a quick reference in case someone asks me the same thing again. I also refer people to my ‘Chapters’ page a lot. From the web site visit metrics, I see this is slowly getting more hits as a landing page.

And as you may have noticed, I am a sucker for ‘old scrap’, sorry: museums. I really like to discover the origins of our modern equipment and see how people in the old days were able to landscape our current world. Other fun things to write about are the current events: ¡VAMOS!, conferences, CEDA, graduations, Damen.

Selection of other dredging topics (Museums, ¡VAMOS!, Graduation Suman Sapkota)

Looking back on one year of writing on Discover Dredging, I can say, that I still enjoy it. And from the responses, you do it too. Reason enough to continue. You can expect a report on a graduation shortly. I have an interesting book recommendation for you. Here in the Netherlands we are going to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day; it will be in time to put it on your wish list. There are still some exhibits from the Damen Dredging Experience to be explained. And there will always be some other topic emerging for publication. Check here regularly or follow me on LinkedIn.

OK, as a small party gift for an anniversary, I still have this colouring page lying around. I used it once in a presentation, but don’t have any specific use for it in a particular topic. I think it is fun enough to share it with you anyway. Have fun!

Colouring page of a dredging equipment toolbox dredge

References

  1. Countdown to the CEDA Dredging Days 2017
  2. Discover Familiar Grounds in Dredging

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

References

  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