Robert Ballard Ph.D. ’72

If you spent much time watching television in the last few weeks, it would have been difficult to avoid seeing marine explorer and URI Oceanography Professor Robert Ballard. The man best known for his discovery of the resting place of the Titanic was featured on the CBS news program 60 Minutes on May 10 and on the public television program Nova on May 5.

His 60 Minutes interview focused on his recent efforts to explore and document what he calls “The Unknown America,” the vast expanse of virtually unexplored U.S. territories in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and their myriad natural and cultural resources.

This year his ship the E/V Nautilus is spending six months exploring U.S.-controlled sites in the Gulf of Mexico before traversing the Panama Canal to visit the waters off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington.  He will also explore off the Galapagos Islands and British Columbia along the way.  And every minute of his explorations, including those with URI students and scientists aboard, are broadcast live to the Inner Space Center at the Graduate School of Oceanography and streamed to the Nautilus Live website, enabling the public to watch and listen as discoveries are made. His goal is to involve students all across the Ocean State in his explorations in hopes they will pursue careers in science and technology.

“Lewis and Clark traveled for more than two years and had to wait to return home to share what they’d seen,” said Professor Ballard. “Now, the moment a discovery is made, scientists can virtually step aboard our ship and share findings in real time as well as help direct the minute-by-minute operations. This is a voyage of discovery everyone can make.”

Ballard’s appearance on Nova told the story of his 2014 discovery of the sunken remains of a World War II German U-boat in the Gulf of Mexico and what he called a “CSI kind of investigation” that cleared up a 77-year-old controversy over who should be credited with sinking it. Using remotely operated vehicles, the expedition assembled a detailed photomontage of the U-boat, which led to a revision of the U.S. military’s official history of the sinking.

Professor Ballard’s fascinating journeys teach us a great deal about our past and have encouraged others to investigate the undiscovered mysteries of the deep sea.