Legendary oceanographer and undersea explorer, Dr. Robert Ballard, founder and president of Ocean Exploration Trust, joins us for a special event hosted by Glenn Flickinger.
Ballard’s groundbreaking work has transformed our understanding of the world beneath the waves. Throughout his illustrious career, Ballard has been a pioneer in deep-sea exploration, making significant contributions to marine science, archaeology, and technology.
Ballard’s journey into the underwater world began during his tenure in the United States Navy. Commissioned as an officer in 1965, he served as a commander in the U.S. Navy’s submarine service. His military background provided the foundation for his later career as an explorer of the ocean depths. Ballard’s passion for exploration, combined with his scientific curiosity, led him to pursue a doctorate in marine geology and geophysics from the University of Rhode Island.
One of Ballard’s most notable achievements is the discovery of the wreckage of the RMS Titanic in 1985. In collaboration with the French oceanographic institute IFREMER, Ballard used advanced deep-sea submersibles to locate the iconic shipwreck nearly 12,500 feet below the surface of the North Atlantic. This discovery captivated the world and marked a turning point in the field of deep-sea exploration. Ballard’s innovative use of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) and manned submersibles set a new standard for underwater archaeology. Today, Ocean Exploration Trust undertakes an 8-10 month field season with its ship, E/V Nautilus, (NautilusLive.org) deploying multiple ROVs and AUVs to explore many scientific disciplines in the deep ocean.
Beyond the Titanic, Robert Ballard has been involved in numerous other significant discoveries. In 1977, he participated in the exploration of the Galápagos Rift, where hydrothermal vents and unique ecosystems were found. These vents, teeming with life previously unknown to science, revolutionized our understanding of the potential for life in extreme environments. Ballard’s work in the Galápagos Rift laid the groundwork for subsequent studies on deep-sea biology and ecology.
In the 1980s, Ballard turned his attention to the Mediterranean, where he made another groundbreaking discovery – the well-preserved remains of ancient shipwrecks. Using his deep-sea exploration tools, Ballard and his team uncovered a wealth of archaeological treasures, including vessels dating back to the Roman Empire. These findings provided valuable insights into ancient seafaring practices and maritime trade routes.
In 2002, Robert Ballard discovered in the Pacific Ocean PT-109, the patrol torpedo boat commanded by then-Lieutenant John F. Kennedy during World War II.
On the night of August 2, 1943, during a moonless night in the Blackett Strait in the Solomon Islands, PT-109 was rammed and sunk by a Japanese destroyer, the Amagiri. Kennedy and his crew faced a harrowing ordeal, with two crew members losing their lives. Kennedy’s leadership and heroic efforts to save his surviving crew earned him acclaim and played a role in shaping his political career.
Armed with advanced sonar technology, ROVs, and historical records and eyewitness accounts of the incident, Robert Ballard and his team scoured the waters of the Blackett Strait.
After days of meticulous searching, they successfully identified and documented the remains of PT-109 on the ocean floor. The discovery marked the culmination of a concerted effort to piece together the puzzle of the boat’s final resting place. The images and data captured by Ballard’s expedition not only confirmed the location of PT-109 but also provided valuable insights into the condition of the sunken vessel.