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Van Straaten, Lambertus Marius Joannes Ursinus


(b. Rotterdam, Netherlands, 2 April 1920;

d. 6 May 2004), geology, sedimentology, petrology.

Van Straaten is one of the best known of a famous group of Dutch geologists who were active in the development

of sedimentology in the twentieth century. He published a series of highly original papers on recent marine sediments after he started research on the tidal flats of the Dutch Wadden Sea in 1950.

Youth and University Studies. Van Straaten was born in Rotterdam, but spent most of his youth in Voorburg near The Hague. His father was a bacteriologist, his mother an apothecary. As a boy he was already interested in shells and fossils; he bought a canoe to study freshwater life near his home. Similar to many of his contemporaries, he was stimulated by the highly influential Dutch popular natural history books by Eli Heimans and Jac. P. Thijsse, in particular Het Geologieboekje (Booklet on Geology), written by Heimans in 1913 (2nd ed. 1923). Later in life Van Straaten himself became an excellent lecturer and popularizer of geology.

After graduating from the Gymnasium (grammar-school) in The Hague, Van Straaten started his studies in geology at Leiden University in 1938. Because of a vigorous protest of the university against the forced dismissal of Jewish professors in the autumn of 1940, the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands closed Leiden University and Van Straaten went to Utrecht University to continue his studies there.

As unemployed men, including students, were in danger of being sent to Germany for forced labor, Van Straaten welcomed geological work in the province of Limburg organized by the States Collieries. This work was considered to be of economic importance and at first the participants did not have to fear being sent to Germany. In this period Van Straaten collected numerous gravel samples from the Meuse terraces, deposited by an Early Quaternary Rhine from Germany. However, Van Straaten also had to face deteriorating Nazi measures and went underground for two years, from May 1943 until the end of the war in May 1945. He resumed his studies in Leiden after the reopening of the university there. He became research assistant to Professor B.G. Escher, the writer of well-known Dutch textbooks on mineralogy and geology, and received his M.Sc. degree on 12 March 1946. On 10 July 1946 he defended his PhD thesis on the gravels he had collected from the Meuse terraces during the war. Thereafter he worked for a short period with the famous mineralogist Professor Paul Niggli at the E.T.H. Zürich (Switzerland) and started on 1 April 1947 as a co-worker of Professor Philip H. Kuenen, a well-known Dutch geologist, at the Geological Institute of Groningen University.

Studies of Tidal Flat Sediments. In Groningen Van Straaten’s main object of study became the holocene sediments of the nearby Wadden Sea, in particular their transport and sedimentation. This resulted in a range of original papers starting in 1950. In 1951 he presented a benchmark paper on texture and genesis of Dutch Wadden Sea sediments at the Third International Sedimento-logical Congress, held in Groningen. He extended his research area to recent sediments to tidal flats in the province of Zeeland, the Bay of Arcachon, and the Rhone delta in France, and compared these with the Devonian Psammites du Condroz (1954).

Van Straaten was visiting professor of Marine Geology at Texas A&M College from 1954 to 1955. In 1958 he was invited to take part in the Salt Marsh Conference held at the Marine Institute of the University of Georgia at Sapelo Island, where he gave a paper on Dutch tidal flat formations. These visits to the United States and his contributions to congresses made him well known abroad, in addition to his renown in the Netherlands.

A large excavation near Velsen for a tunnel under the North Sea Canal, which connects Amsterdam with the North Sea, enabled detailed studies by a team of geologists and archeologists of recent sediments in this large but temporary exposure. The results were combined in a special publication edited by Van Straaten and Jan D. de Jong (1956).

Henk Postma (1954) described in his PhD thesis, “Hydrography of the Dutch Wadden Sea,” a trapping mechanism and transport of small particles from the North Sea toward the shallower parts of the Wadden Sea. This stimulated Van Straaten to work with Philip H. Kuenen to publish on the mechanisms of this accumulation of fine-grained sediments (1957, 1958). They concluded that such processes must also have existed in the past. An increase in mud content may not always indicate increase in depth but sometimes closer approach to the coast.

In 1962 Van Straaten obtained grants from, among others, Royal Dutch Shell; the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Washington, D.C.; and its Dutch counterpart ZWO for an expedition in the Adriatic Sea to solve a dispute among sedimentologists on how troughs were filled with sediment: sideways or lengthwise by turbidity currents, as advocated by his colleague Kuenen. Van Straaten proved that the deeper beds were graded, indicating that turbidity currents, following the length of the trough, played an important part in filling the basin. Mollusks of the sediment samples were also studied. Since his youth Van Straaten collected shells and was a member of the Dutch Malacological Society since 1953.

Another research topic of Van Straaten’s became the building up of the western North Sea coast of Holland (1961, 1965, continuing his earlier studies at the excavation near Velsen). The Holocene history of the Dutch west coast formed by successive beach barriers was elucidated using drillings and numerous grab samples taken in the coastal part of the North Sea.

At Groningen University. In 1962 Van Straaten was appointed extraordinary professor of marine geology and petrology; in 1972 he succeeded Kuenen as ordinary professor, which position he held until his retirement in 1985. Among the eleven students who wrote their PhD theses under Van Straaten’s supervision were five French geologists from the University of Strasbourg who had studied Ordivician glacial deposits in the Sahara. After 1970 Van Straaten devoted most of his time to his students: He not only lectured for geology students but also for the much larger group of biology students who had geology in their curriculum. He was an excellent lecturer and his field excursions with students were highly popular. He added four chapters to the first edition of a long-used Dutch textbook, Algemene Geologie (General Geology, edited by A.J. Pannekoek and the successor of Escher’s Dutch textbook on geology of 1920 mentioned above, of which the ninth and last edition appeared in 1954). In 1973 Van Straaten became one of the editors of the book’s later editions.

A new research project for Van Straaten became the origin of the famous Jurassic Solnhofen lithographic limestone. Most textbooks following Othenio Abel’s (1922) Lebensbilder aus der Tierwelt der Vorzeit interpreted these limestones as beach deposits. Van Straaten (1971) discovered fine grading and scour marks indicating transport of carbonate particles in suspension to the Solnhofen basins, which probably were anoxic and without life. He suggested rapid sedimentation (storm events) of the successive layers in probably only a few days, enabling excellent preservation of the animals trapped in the basins. These well-preserved fossils—including Archaeopterix—made Solnhofen well known worldwide. Van Straaten also studied the formation of the numerous iron and manganese dendrites occurring in the lithographic limestones.

Besides his vast knowledge of sedimentological structures, Van Straaten possessed a phenomenal knowledge of rocks gained during his PhD studies and his work with Paul Niggli in Zürich. He lectured for more than thirty years on petrology and most of his publications after his retirement dealt with petrology, especially with porphyries. In 2002 he published his last paper, on porphyries from the Rhine river basin. Up until his death he studied radiolarites and jasper, but unfortunately he could not finish these studies for publication.

As a result of reorganizations of the geological education at university level in the Netherlands, the Geological Institute in Groningen was closed in 1983. Van Straaten saw to it that the geological collection went to the university museum and that the library was made part of the library of the university. As an emeritus without commitments he could dedicate himself to traveling to geologically interesting areas. He visited Siberia, Svalbard, Patagonia, Oman, India, Costa Rica, Australia, and the Philippines. On part of these travels (Svalbard) he functioned as guide, where his wide interest in nature was well appreciated.

Van Straaten was a member of the editorial board of Marine Geology from 1964 to 1982. He was elected member of the KNAW, the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences, in 1971 and received the Francis Shepard Award of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists in 1972. He was honored with the Van Waterschoot van der Gracht Medal by the KNGMG (Royal Dutch Geology and Mining Society) in 1972, and elected honorary fellow of the Geological Society, London in 1974. He married Johanna Struijk in 1956 and it was a severe blow to him that his beloved and artistic wife died in 1978, only forty-seven years old. They had two sons, Floris and Hans.



“Grindonderzoek in Zuid-Limburg.” Mededeelingen van de Geologische Stichting. C-VI, No. 2 (1946): 1–146. (Gravel Research in S.-Limburg, PhD thesis, in Dutch with a French résumé of 13 p).

“Texture and Genesis of Dutch Wadden Sea Sediments.” Proceedings of the Third International Congress of Sedimentology Groningen. Wageningen, the Netherlands. 1951.

“Biogene Textures and the Formation of Shell Beds in the Dutch Wadden Sea.” Proceedings Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen Series B, 55 (1952): 500–516.

“Megaripples in the Dutch Wadden Sea and the Basin of Arcachon (France).” Geologie en Mijnbouw (New Series) 15 (1953): 1–11.

“Composition and Structure of Recent Marine Sediments in the Netherlands.” Leidse Geologische Mededelingen 19 (1954): 1–110.

“Sedimenology of Recent Tidal Flat Deposits and the Psammites du Condroz (Devonian).” Geologie en Mijnbouw (New Series) 16 (1954): 25–47.

With Jan D. de Jong, eds. “The Excavation at Velsen” Verhandelingen van het Koninklijk Nederlands GeologischMijnbouwkundig Genootschap, Geological Series 17 (1956): 87–218.

With Ph. H. Kuenen. “Tidal Action as a Cause of Clay Accumulation.” Journal of Sedimentary Petrology 28 (1958): 406–413.

“Directional Effects of Winds, Waves and Currents along the Dutch North Sea Coast.” Geologie en Mijnbouw 40 (1961): 333–346 and 363–391.

“Deltaic and Shallow Marine Deposits.” Developments in Sedimentology I. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1964.

“Coastal Barrier Deposits in South- and North-Holland.” Mededelingen van de Geologische Stichting, Nieuwe Serie 17 (1965): 41–75.

“Sedimentation in the North-Western Part of the Adriatic Sea.” Colston Papers, Being the Proceedings 17th Symposium of the Colston Research Society, Bristol. 1965.

“Micro-malacological Investigation of Cores from the Southeastern Adriatic Sea.” Proceedings van de Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen—Amsterdam, Series B. 69 (1966): 429–445.

“Origin of Solnhofen limestone.” Geologie en Mijnbouw 50 (1971): 3–8.

“Turbidite Sediments in the Southeastern Adriatic Sea.” In Turbidites. Developments in Sedimentology 3, edited by A. H. Bouma and A. Brouwer. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1964.

“Zuidelijke porfieren.” Grondboor en Hamer 56 (2002): 155–156.


Cadée, Gerhard C., and Hemmo J. Veenstra. Levensberichten en herdenkingen. Koninklijke: Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, forthcoming in 2007.

Veenstra, Hemmo J. “In memoriam.” Geological Society (London) Annual Report (2004): 44–45.

———. Nieuwsbrief Koninklijk Nederlands Geologisch Mijnbouwkundig Genootschap(June 2004): 12–13.

Gerhard C. Cadée
Hemmo J. Veenstra

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