Thorndike Saville, Jr., Division Chief and Technical Director of the CERC, Dies at Age 89

November 26, 2014

Thorndike Saville, Jr., P.E., F.ASCE, considered to be one of the giants in coastal engineering for his research on wave hindcasting and the development of wave statistics leading to wave forecasting and wave inshore processes, including overtopping and run-up and beach sediment transport, passed away on November 5 at the age of 89. His work in hydrodynamics also led to studies to determine and predict storm surges. Among his achievements, he conducted larger-scale stability of rock experiments, testing and verifying Hudson’s formula [an equation used by coastal engineers to calculate the minimum size of riprap] in the large wave tank available at the Coastal Engineering Research Center.

Saville was born August 8, 1925, in Baltimore, Maryland, and both his father and his grandfather were accomplished hydraulic engineers. His father, Thorndike Saville Sr., was one of the founding fathers of coastal engineering in the U.S., having served from 1930 to 1969 on first the Beach Erosion Board (BEB) and then the Coastal Engineering Research Board (CERB).

Upon graduation from high school in 1942, Saville went to Harvard University for a year before joining the Army in 1943. During World War II he served as a weather observer, collecting meteorological data first along the Atlantic seaboard and then later in the Pacific, where his duty stations included New Guinea and the Philippines. At the conclusion of the war he returned to Harvard to complete his undergraduate degree in civil engineering in 1947, before going on to graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his master’s degree and studied and conducted sediment transport physical modeling tests under the direction of Joe Johnson.

Upon graduation, he was hired by Major General Glen Edgerton in 1949 to work for the BEB, a federal board organized under the U.S. Government’s War Department (later, the Department of Defense) and part of the civil works program of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Saville was immediately assigned to conduct studies of sediment and water movement in the Mission Bay, San Diego, California, area and then in 1950 he moved east to work at the BEB at the Dalecarlia Reservoir in Washington, D.C. The BEB was abolished in 1963 and its duties were transferred in part to CERC, and in other parts to the Board of Engineering for Rivers and Harbors, at which point Saville was appointed as chief of the CERC Research Division. The primary research mission of the CERC was expanded from the limits associated with studying beach erosion to researching deep water processes and the stability of navigation structures.

In 1971, Saville was selected as technical director of the CERC, a position he held until his retirement in 1981. During his long and distinguished tenure, the CERC produced the Shore Protection Manual, constructed the Field Research Facility in Duck, North Carolina, and was recognized throughout the world as the premier research lab for developing the scientific foundations and engineering tools required to support sound coastal development.

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