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Protagonisti del mare: Robert Ballard, an Ocean deep sea explorer

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ARGOMENTO: PROTAGONISTI DEL MARE
PERIODO: XX – XXI SECOLO
AREA: STATI UNITI
parole chiave: Ballard, NR 1

 

Among the most accomplished and well known of the world’s deep-sea explorers, Robert Ballard is best known for his historic discoveries of hydrothermal vents, the sunken R.M.S. Titanic, the German battleship Bismarck, and numerous other contemporary and ancient shipwrecks around the world. During his long career he has conducted more than 120 deep-sea expeditions using the latest in exploration technology, and he is a pioneer in the early use of deep-diving submarines. Doctor Ballard grew up in San Diego, California. As many, his juvenile interest in underwater exploration was boosted by the Julius Verne novel “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea”.

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ALVIN submersible

In 1962, Ballard began working for Ocean Systems Group at North American Aviation getting a part-time job. Curiously, at North American Aviation, he worked on an initial failed proposal to build the submersible Alvin for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Such experience was educational and lately helped him to develop new equipments. In 1965, Ballard graduated from the University of California earning an undergraduate degrees in chemistry and geology. His first graduate MS degree (1966) was in geophysics from the University of Haway’s Institute of Geophysics where he trained porpoises and whales. Ballard was working towards a Ph.D.  in marine geology  at the U. S.Ca in 1967 when he was called to active duty. Upon his request, Ballard was transferred into the US Navy as an oceanographer and became a liaison between the ONR (Office of Naval Research) and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Mass. After leaving active duty and entering into the Naval Reserve in 1970, Ballard continued working at Woods Hole and persuaded scientist  to fund and use Alvin for undersea research. Four years later Ballard received a Ph.D. in  marine geology and geophysics at Rhode Island University. Ballard’s first dive in a submersible was in the Ben Franklin (PX-15) in 1969, off the coast of Florida  during a WHOI expedition. In the summer of 1970, he began a field mapping project of the Gulf of Maine using an air gun to determine the  structure of the ocean floor.

During the Summer of 1975, Ballard participated in a joint French-American expedition called Phere searching active vents over the Mid Atlantic ridge. The mission was unsuccessful and was repeted in 1979 by a deep towed camera sleds.
When Alvin inspected one of the sites the scientists observed black smoke billowing out of the vents, something not observed at the Galapogos Rift.
Ballard  dived by  Alvin and, the day after, the black  smokers were spotted; he was able to take temperature reading of the active vent (a temperature of 350 °C – 662 °F was recorded). Ballard and Francheteau continued searching for more vents along the East Pacific Rise until 1982.

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Titanic computer reconstruction

Marine archaeology
While Ballard had been interested in the sea since an early age, his work at Woods Hole drove  his interest in shipwrecks. His work in the Navy had involved assisting in the development of small, unmanned submersibles that could be tethered to and controlled from a surface ship, and were outfitted with lighting, cameras, and manipulator arms. As early as 1973, Ballard saw this as  a way of searching for the wreck of RMS Titanic.

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rov Argus

In 1977, Ballard led his first expedition, which was unsuccessful. In the summer of 1985, he was transferred on board of R/V Knorr, financed by the US Navy to secretly search two Navy nuclear powered attack submarines, the USS Scorpion and the USS Thresher, sank in the ’60ties. Ballard proposed to scan the bottom of the sea by his new deepsea underwater ROV, the Argus (see left). However Ballard requested to the USN to receive a financing to his search of the RMS Titanic. His idea was to follow the bottom debris to try to find the main wreck.

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Knorr

When the Knorr went back in the area, he started to deploy the ROV over the submarines wreckage. Lately Lessons learnt from the submarine search were used for seeking the Titanic. As well the presence of scattered debris because of the ship implosion helped for the finding. Eventually, in September 1985, a boiler was sighted, and soon after that, the hull was found splitted in two. Regrettably, Ballard’s team did not have much time to explore, and he has to return in 1986 to better map and investigate one of the most famous wreck.

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Bismark, German Navy battleship wreck

After the discovery of the wreck of the Titanic,  Dr. Robert D. Ballard’s next goal was to find the wreck of the Germann battleship Bismarck.  The ship was sunk  after a long battle and, out of a crew of over 2,200 men, only 114 survived. On 8 June, 1989, after scanning an area of some 200 square miles, He finally found Bismarck‘s remains. The wreck lies in the bottom of the cold Atlantic Ocean, 470 miles west of Brest at a depth of 4,790 meters (15,700 feet). Ballard kept the wreck’s exact location a secret to prevent other divers from taking artefacts from the ship, a practice he considered a form of grave robbing. That was also correct considering that, according to the international law, the wreck of the Bismarck, sunk in international waters, and is still property of its country of origin, and is considered a war grave. His personal fame grow up and more research were financed all over the world, causing sometimes quite few protests by his allegedly way to act. The close proximity with the Tunisian and Italian waters (and the national responsibilities in such area) created a harsh International reactions concerning the legittimacy to collect such artifacts. One of this, it was the Bank Skerki project. Although his research happened in international waters and off the 24 miles border (iaw Montego bay convention) . The project started on 1988 to investigate such area in order to find American and German vessel and submarine wrecks. During his research an unknown volcano was discovered as well an ancient Roman wreck. All was accurately filmed and analysed by many American universities.

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on the bottom of the Black Sea

The follow up was a new project to search ancient wrecks along the route Carthago-Rome on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. This new ambitious project started on 1989 and was completed on 1997. A mini nuclear submarine (NR1) and 2 ROV were employed by the Carolyn Chouest oceanographic vessel. As far as known eight ancient wrecks were discovered and few artifacts (15 pieces) were collected. International complaints were very unpleasants.  Ballard was accused to robber the bottom of the Sea and he left. Although International laws are clear on who is responsible for, I wonder if Nations without such equipments could find a trade off in order to perform common researches without sticking in their position. But Doctor Ballard’s research are not stopped. Recently,  off the coast of northern Turkey, 95 meters below the Black Sea, he has discovered artefacts of an ancient structure that was apparently flooded in a deluge of biblical proportions. National Geographic reported that this find may lend credence to a theory that a Black Sea flood gave rise to the Noah story and other flood legends.
His findings represents “the first concrete evidence for the occupation of the Black Sea coast prior to its flooding,” says expedition archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert, of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

“This is a major discovery that will rewrite the history of civilizations in this key area between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.”

Ballard is president of the Institute for Exploration, scientist emeritus from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Director of the newly created Center for Ocean Exploration at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography.

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EV Nautilus

Besides, his new ship of exploration, the E/V Nautilus, a modern 64-meter research vessel, currently based in Bodrum – Turkey spends five months at Sea each year and is exploring the Black Sea, Aegean, Mediterranean, and Atlantic Ocean. An interesting feature is that she is able to beam back his exploration around the clock on a channel, Nautilus Live. She is equipped with a high-bandwidth satellite system to facilitate remote science and education via the Inner Space Center (ISC) which shares a live feed from the ROVs with Exploration Command Consoles located around the world. For instance, the Nautilus Live Theater at Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut is one of the sites where audience members can be linked to crew members on the ship at sea and can ask them questions directly (wikipedia). About such utility, it is important to mention that Ballard developed, in 1989, the first distance learning in US classrooms (and around the world), so called the JASON Project. The JASON Project’s approach to science education immerses students in real-world situations where they are mentored by scientists from organizations like NASA, NOOA, the US Dept. of Energy and National Geographic. JASON creates these connections using Educational games, videos, live interactivity and social networking to embed its partners’ research in the curriculum. Last, in his long career, Ballard has received prestigious awards from the Explorers Club and the National Geographic Societ, the Explorers Medal and the Hubbard Medal, respectively, as well as the Lindbergh Award. In 2003 President George W. Bush presented him with the National Endowment for the Humanities Medal in the Oval Office of the White House.

More about Black sea research
Underwater archaeologist and finder of the sunken Titanic Robert Ballard searches the depths of the Black Sea for evidence of the Biblical Flood. The black sea was once a freshwater lake, but at some time in history the walls broke and the sea flooded in. Is this the place where all the flood myths originate, or were the flood myths referring to the worldwide rising sea levels at the end of the Ice Age – stories passed down from generation to generation for centuries before they were written down as fables?

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