Bob was fascinated by physical ocean-related problems and applied his unusual abilities to absorb mathematical principles rapidly. His physical intuition enabled him to rapidly understand the dominant physical forces in a problem, cast them into their most relevant forms, and progress to their solutions. His publications and teaching were characterized by insight, clarity, elegance, and significant advancements. His engineering contributions were carried out with his students and spanned broad areas of the nearshore region; a few representative applications are discussed below.
His early professional career at Texas A&M University occurred at the time of the rapid development of offshore petroleum resources in the Gulf of Mexico and concerns related to wave forces and hurricane storm surges. At that time little was known regarding many of the design challenges as the exploration and development programs progressed from shallow to deep water. His contributions ranged from geotechnical considerations in offshore pipeline design to hydrodynamic loading on offshore platforms during extreme weather conditions. Along with Charles Bretschneider, Bob rapidly advanced the available knowledge related to offshore platform design, including the stability limit for breaking waves in water depths ranging from shallow to deep water, damping of waves as they propagate over various bottom sediment types, and the development and application of methods to transform measurements of irregular water surface profiles to wave velocities and accelerations, the latter being required to compute realistic wave forces.
Bob’s strong analytical skills coupled with his grasp of numerical techniques enabled him to address effectively many problems of engineering interest by advantageously applying the emerging capabilities of computers. These included the wave and storm surge characteristics in Lake Okeechobee, where he and his students analyzed and interpreted data collected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He developed empirical relationships for the ratio of crest height to wave height, which proved to be in very good agreement with robust nonlinear wave theories developed subsequently.