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Tidal Calculations in The Netherlands, 1920-1960

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129753D
Original Publication Date: 1992-Sep-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 14 page(s) / 54K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

JAN VAN DEN ENDE: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

This article describes the computing problems in the field of tidal calculations in the Netherlands between 1920 and 1960. These calculations were necessary to predict the changes in the water movements caused by hydraulic works like the Zuiderzee Works and the Delta Works. The growth of computing problems in this field was not only caused by the increasing technical complexity of the hydraulic works, but also by the growing importance of the tidal calculations in the decision process. Before the introduction of the digital computer, several solutions were developed and used: numerical methods, contracting young men for the calculations, analog electrical machines, and large-scale models. The required accuracy of the predictions and the number of alternative plans for which calculations had to be done were important factors in the choice between the alternative methods.

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Copyright ©; 1992 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Tidal Calculations in The Netherlands, 1920-1960

JAN VAN DEN ENDE

This article describes the computing problems in the field of tidal calculations in the Netherlands between 1920 and 1960. These calculations were necessary to predict the changes in the water movements caused by hydraulic works like the Zuiderzee Works and the Delta Works. The growth of computing problems in this field was not only caused by the increasing technical complexity of the hydraulic works, but also by the growing importance of the tidal calculations in the decision process. Before the introduction of the digital computer, several solutions were developed and used: numerical methods, contracting young men for the calculations, analog electrical machines, and large-scale models. The required accuracy of the predictions and the number of alternative plans for which calculations had to be done were important factors in the choice between the alternative methods.

Categories and Subject Descriptors: K.2 [Computing Milieux]: History of Computing -- Hardware, People. General Terms: Design, Measurement. Additional Terms: Hydraulics, Analog Computers, Numerical Analysis, Hydraulic Scale Models.

In 1918 the Dutch government called upon the assistance of the famous physicist H.A. Lorentz for the solution of an urgent problem. The problem involved the prediction of the changes in tidal motions which, it was feared, would result from the planned enclosure of the Zuiderzee, a large bay on the North Sea. Calculations proved to be so complex that it took Lorentz eight years to complete his investigation. After the Zuiderzee Works project, such tidal predictions became regular practice in the preparation of hydraulic works in the tidal waters of the Delta Region of the Netherlands, such as dams and land reclamation projects. The demand for computing resources increased to such an extent that it began to hamper technological progress in this field. In the search for a solution, a number of parallel initiatives were taken to develop new methods to predict changes in tidal effect. A large flood in 1953 accelerated the research using these methods, and resulted in the execution of the hydraulic works known as the Delta Works.

The computing problems emerging in this field were of a type similar to those encountered by the military during the Second World War in, for example, ballistics and the Manhattan Project. Historians of computing have paid special attention to the military problems because these formed the primary stimulus for the development of digital computers. However, the success of the digital computer cannot be explained solely in terms of computational demands arising from military sources. The increase in general demand for computing aids in those days was at least as important. Such demand...