Arizona Speaker Series
Dr. Robert Ballard
Oceanographer Who Discovered the Titanic
Tuesday, December 3rd, 2019
“I grew up wanting to be Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”
Best known for his 1985 discovery of the TITANIC, Dr. Robert Ballard has succeeded in tracking down numerous other significant shipwrecks, including the German battleship BISMARCK, the lost fleet of Guadalcanal, the U.S. aircraft carrier YORKTOWN (sunk in the World War II Battle of Midway), and John F. Kennedy’s boat, PT-109.
While those discoveries have captured the imagination of the public, Dr. Ballard believes his most important discoveries were of hydrothermal vents and “black smokers” in the Galapagos Rift and East Pacific Rise in 1977 and 1979 along with their exotic life forms living off the energy of the Earth through a process now called chemosynthesis.
In addition to being a National Geographic Society Explorer-In-Residence and a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, Dr. Ballard is the president of the Ocean Exploration Trust (OET).
Ballard was born June 30, 1942, in Wichita, KS but moved to California at a very young age and grew up exploring the shore in San Diego. Dr. Ballard has a Ph.D. in marine geology and geophysics from the University of Rhode Island. He spent 30 years at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where he helped develop telecommunications technology to create “tele-presence” for his education initiative, which allows hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren to accompany him from afar on undersea explorations around the globe each year. In 2001, he returned to the Graduate School of Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island where he is presently a tenured Professor of Oceanography and Director of the Center for Ocean Exploration.
Dr. Ballard has 21 honorary degrees and six military awards. He was also a Commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve, serving in the Navy from 1967 to 1997. He received the National Geographic Society’s prestigious Hubbard Medal in 1996 for “extraordinary accomplishments in coaxing secrets from the world’s oceans and engaging students in the wonder of science.” In 2014, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Dr. Ballard has published numerous books, scientific papers, and a dozen articles in National Geographic magazine. Dr. Ballard also has been featured in several National Geographic television programs, including the record-breaking “Secrets of the TITANIC.”
His discoveries also include sunken remains of ships along ancient trade routes in the Mediterranean Sea; two ancient Phoenician ships off Israel, the oldest shipwrecks ever found in deep water; and four 1,500-year-old wooden ships, one almost perfectly preserved in the Black Sea. Dr. Ballard’s Black Sea project seeks evidence of a great flood that may have struck the region thousands of years ago.
His 1997 best-selling book, Lost Liners, tells the story of the great transatlantic liners through memorable wrecks he has visited. Dr. Ballard was also a special advisor on Steven Spielberg’s futuristic Sea Quest, DSV television show.
An explorer, discoverer and historian, Dr. Ballard’s fascinating journeys can teach us a great deal about our past, and they have encouraged others to take tremendous strides in the survey of the undiscovered mysteries of the deep sea.