Ballard to return to undersea sites with new robot
MYSTIC, CONN. -- July 16, 2003 -- A remotely operated vehicle built to conduct the first archaeological excavation in the deep sea will make its debut this summer on a 41-day expedition to the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean, led by Robert D. Ballard, president of the Institute for Exploration at Mystic Aquarium and an Explorer-in-Residence at National Geographic. The expedition also will, for the first time, bring deep-sea exploration live to scientists, student and the public via satellite and Internet technologies.
and advanced communications technologies
Working under the dual auspices of Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration and the new Institute for Archaeological Oceanography in the University of Rhode Islands Graduate School of Oceanography, Ballard will return to sites in the Black Sea and Mediterranean where he and his team have made significant discoveries on past expeditions. This time Ballard will use a new, sophisticated vehicle known as Hercules.
Lawrence Stager of Harvard University, Fredrik Hiebert of the University of Pennsylvania, and Cheryl Ward of Florida State University will oversee the expeditions diverse archaeological program. Dwight Coleman of the Institute for Exploration (IFE) is chief of research, and Jim Newman of IFE is chief engineer.
The new remotely operated vehicle (ROV) Hercules, developed by engineers from IFE and the Deep Submergence Laboratory at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, carries sophisticated "force feedback" manipulators, advanced visual and acoustic sensors, and high-definition television systems that make is possible to do archaeological excavation of delicate objects in water with poor visibility.
Ballard and his team of scientists will send real-time video and audio from mission sites, thousands of miles away, to fellow scientists at the Innerspace Center, a type of "mission control" built by EDS for this expedition at the University of Rhode Islands Graduate School of Oceanography. The live satellite feed will also be routed to Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration, where visitors will be able to join the mission "live" and talk to Ballard and the team in real-time.
The expedition will begin in the Black Sea, where Ballards team has discovered several significant ancient shipwrecks. Unlike shipwrecks in most of the worlds oceans and seas, which have been robbed of their wooden parts by wood-boring animals, many of those in the Black Sea remain largely intact and retain much of their wood, due to low oxygen levels that render the waters inhospitable to life. On an expedition to the Black Sea in September 2000, Ballards team discovered a cluster of four ancient shipwrecks. One of them was almost perfectly preserved, with its 35-foot wooden mast and stanchions still standing upright about 1,000 feet below the sea.
The ships purpose was not apparent. "This time, by probing beneath the seafloor, we should be able to learn more about who built and sailed these ships so long ago and what their mission was," Ballard said.
The expedition also will return to a nearby site, which may be a man-made building foundation in an area that apparently was inundated by a cataclysmic flood 7,600 years ago. Analysis of sediment and chemical composition in the area of the foundation shows considerable variation from the surrounding sea bottom, indicating that the site might once have been inhabited.
"We now will try to test the theory that people used to live on land that is now underwater," Ballard said.
From the Black Sea, the expedition will move to the eastern Mediterranean, returning to a place where in June 1999 Ballard and his team found two Phoenician shipwrecks dating to 750 B.C., the time of Homer, in more than 1,000 feet of water. The ships were believed to have originated in Phoenicia, now Lebanon. All that was visible from the wreck was the ships cargo hundreds of amphorae that once carried wine, spread out on the seafloor.
Ballard believes part of the ships themselves may lie below the surface, and he will send Hercules to investigate. "This should give us new insight into the legendary Phoenician mariners and the cargoes they carried across the Mediterranean," he said.
The live, wired transmission from the expedition will allow Ballard to test a theory that scientists can join a mission virtually and still conduct scientific research and "stand watch" from shore. In addition, bringing visitors live into the expedition carries out Ballards vision of taking science directly to people.
Working with the JASON Foundation, The Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the U.S. Department of Education, Mystics Immersion Project also will distribute educational programming to a network of children at sites across the United States.
Sponsors of this years expedition include the National Geographic Society, NOAAs Office of Ocean Exploration, Shelby White/Leon Levy Expeditions and the U.S. Office of Naval Research.
National Geographic Television is covering the expedition and will produce a one-hour documentary for PBS, and National Geographic magazine is covering it for an article.
The host ship for the expedition is Woods Holes R/V Knorr, which Ballard used on his 1977 discovery of the first hydrothermal vents, off the Galapagos, and his discovery in 1985 of the RMS Titanic.
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