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Lambertus Marius Joannes Ursinus (Bert) van Straaten, 1920-2004

Bert van Straaten was born at Rotterdam on 2 April 1920, but spent most of his youth at Voorburg near the Hague. He died at Groningen on 6 May 2004 of bowel cancer, after an illness of some months. Stimulated by a geology booklet by the naturalist Heimans, and after graduating from the Gymnasium (grammar school) he chose to study geology at the University of Leiden in 1938, graduating on 13 July 1940. Meanwhile the Netherlands had been occupied by the Nazis. In the autumn of 1940 the University of Leiden - founded in 1575 by William of Orange during the struggle for Dutch independence- put up a vigorous protest against the forced dismissal of Jewish professors. The reaction was swift - the University was closed, and students had to conti v their studies at other universities. Bert van Straaten chose Utrecht.

As unemployed men and students were already in danger of being sent to Germany for labour (or even forced labour) Bert welcomed geological work in the province of Limburg, organised by the State Collieries. The work was considered of economic importance and the participants did not have to fear deportation. Bert could collect numerous gravel samples on the Meuse terraces in Southern Limburg. These terraces also contained much material from Germany, brought by an Early Quaternary Rhine. During the worsening situation Bert van Straaten went into hiding from May 1943 until May 1945, during which period he worked out the results of his gravel sampling. He resumed his studies whn the University of Leiden reopened and on 12 March 1946 took his M.Sc. degree. Meanwhile he was working as a geological assistant with to Prof BG Escher, writer of a well-known geology textbook. On 10 July 1946 he defended his PhD thesis on the gravels of Southern Limburg he had collected during WW2.

In an exchange program he obtained an assistantship with famous mineralogist and petrologist Paul Niggli at E T H Zurich. On 1 April 1947 he began his career as a co-worker of Prof Philip Kuenen at the Geological Institute, University of Groningen. At that time the number of students in geology was very small, so there was ample time for research. Bert chose as his main subject the tidal flats of the Wadden area. Until then research had been focused on coastal erosion, marsh accretion, vegetation and shelly fauna. The mechanism of sediment transport and accumulation was unknown. On a Wadden Symposium held in Groningen in 1950, Bert first presented his early results, and one year later, (at the 3rd International Sedimentological Congress, also in Groningen), he presented his benchmark paper Texture and genesis of Dutch Wadden Sea Sediments. He also did research in the marshes of the province of Zeeland, the Bay of Arcachon (France) and in the Rhone delta, as well as fossil tidal deposits from the Famennian of Belgium. He also coined the word megaripple (1953) as a large ripple-like feature with a wavelength greater than 1m. In 1954-55 Bert van Straaten was visiting Professor of Marine Geology at Texas A&M College.

Among sedimentologists a dispute had arisen over the way in which long depositional troughs had become filled up with sediment in the past. That could be sideways, for which there were many arguments, but also lengthwise (as advocated by Prof. Kuenen). Bert van Straaten chose the Adriatic as his model to see which was right. He rented a fishing boat and took many bottom samples by grab and piston corer (1962). Bert had permission of several Italian ministries, but that appeared not to be enough. Every harbour had its own harbour master, a naval officer. They told the expedition leader that the ship must remain in the territorial waters of Italy. That would have been useless for the research program, but a fake program with courses inside the 3-mile-zone was set up and presented to satisfy the authorities. Then the original plan was carried out as far as the Yugoslavian waters; even with radar the wooden vessel could not be tracked. The research revealed that turbidity currents running along the length of the trough had played an important part. Bert was also an editor of the journal Marine Geology and edited the textbook Algemene geologie (Universal Geology).
Bert van Straaten was appointed extraordinary professor of Marine geology and Petrology at Groningen University in 1962. He accepted his appointment with an oration entitled The Shelf. In 1972 he became ordinary professor in succession to Kuenen. Altogether 86 students took their BSc degrees in geology during his professorship and he supervised 11 PhD theses. Among them were five French geologists from the University of Srasbourg, studying Ordovician glacial deposits in the Sahara.

Bert van Straaten was honoured with the Van Waterschoot van der Gracht Medal by the KNCMG and the Francis Shepard Award of the AAPG in l972. He was elected Honorary Fellow of the Geological Society of London in 1974 and became a member of the KNAW, the Royal Academy of Sciences in the Netherlands, in 1971. He married Johanna Struijk in 1956. It was a severe blow for him that his beloved and artistic wife died in 1978, only 47 years old.

As a result of the reorganisation of the geological education in the Netherlands the Geological Institute at Groningen was closed in 1983.Bert saw to it that the geological collection went to the University Museum and that the library was made part of the University Library at Groningen. As an emeritus without commitments he could dedicate himself to geology. He visited Siberia, Spitsbergen, Patagonia, Oman, India, Costa Rica, Australia and the Philippines, observing geological phenomena. He also had a keen eye for plants, animals and historic buildings. During geological excursions time was often found for visiting some cultural highlights as Versailles, the Bayeux Tapestry, Mont Saint-Michel, the cloth-hall of Ypres, Ravenna, Venice or the cathedrals of Ulm and Loan, the ancient capital of France.

Until his death van Straaten was studying radiolarites and jasper. Unfortunately he was not able to bring this work to publication. An earlier study (of the porphyries from the river basin of the Rhine) was published in 2002. Bert van Straaten will be remembered as a helpful man with a phenomenal knowledge of all types of rocks, sediment textures and shells and is sorely missed as a fount of geological knowledge. He is survived by his two sons Floris and Hare.

Hemmo Veenstra