GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Though they’ve probably never heard of him, North Carolinians have seen the handiwork of Bob Dean when they’ve walked along the beach at Wrightsville Beach, Emerald Isle, Nags Head or any other re-nourished beach along the state’s coast.
Robert G. Dean, maybe the most influential coastal engineer in America, died Saturday, Feb. 28, of a stroke. He was 84.
Dean, an emeritus professor of coastal engineering at the University of Florida in Gainesville, was a theorist of beach re-nourishment, the restoration of eroded beaches through infusions of sand. The techniques he advanced are routine today almost everywhere on developed coastlines. Without them, many beach towns would be without beaches.
“It is hard to walk into a coastal engineering consulting firm or an engineering program at a major university and not find a Bob Dean student,” Robert S. Young, a geologist at Western Carolina University, told The New York Times. They are known in the profession, affectionately, as “the Florida mafia.”
Even in the face of rising seas, Dean maintained his faith in engineering to protect the coast. In part, that was because he did not expect sea-level rise to accelerate, as most climate scientists predict. He was one of the two engineers who was to review North Carolina’s latest sea-level rise report.
Dean was elected to National Academy of Engineering in 1980.
He is survived by his wife, the former Phyllis Thomas; a son, Tim; a daughter, Julie D. Rosati; and five grandchildren.