In Memory of Gerbrant van Vledder

Today I received the sad news that Gerbrant van Vledder, an assistant professor at TU Delft, passed away unexpectedly last week.

Many in our field know him for his work with SWAN, but I would like to shine a light on something else: his research on using wave models to understand how the people of the Marshall Islands have used wave diffraction around islands to navigate their boats for centuries.

Gerbrant had a strong curiosity about using modern tools to find an overlap with more traditional ways of perceiving the world around us; to listen to voices that were not often heard, and find their scientific merit. I think this was unique among engineers, and a really inspiring example. Whether you knew him or not, I encourage you to check out this fascinating article in which his Pacific adventures were featured:

Although I hadn’t spoken to him much recently, Gerbrant was very supportive during my MSc thesis, when I was researching the impact of waves on low-lying tropical coasts like those of the Marshall Islands.  He showed a keen interest in my work, actually reading and giving feedback on my whole 232-page report!  Given the dread with which I now confront verbose master’s student reports myself, I am especially grateful for the time he gave me.   He supported my interest in Marshallese wave piloting, and with his encouragement, I eventually wrote a brief chapter in my thesis about it.  I was lucky to have his experienced and critical eye on my side.

This all comes as quite a surprise.  I still have a book that he lent me last year, which I haven’t given back yet…

Thank you, Gerbrant – you made a difference!