SPA Distinguished Speakers: Robert Ballard
How does a 5 hour commute to and from work every day sound? That’s just the average time if you’re going underwater at a depth of 12,500 feet. Though a vast majority of people can expect never to go that deep underwater, Robert Ballard is one of the lucky few.
A breath of well deserved scandal-free air was given to the audience during the SPA’s Distinguished Speakers Series. Robert Ballard, world famous oceanographer and discoverer of the sunken Titanic and Bismark, was the guest speaker– and he covered much more than deep sea exploration during his allotted hour.
“I was born in Wichita, Kansas, where all oceanographers are born,” Ballard opened jokingly.
Although he was born in Wichita, he moved to San Diego as a child and that is where his passion for the ocean started. He said his inspiration as a child was from the book 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and that he wanted to be Captain Nemo when he grew up.
It’s fair to say that he’s probably come as close to being Captain Nemo as one possibly can.
During his presentation, he made sure to emphasize that his favorite discoveries weren’t The Titanic or The Bismark, but rather the discoveries that no one could have imagined. To get an idea of something like that, he showed the audience a picture of an upside-down reflection pool that was created underneath a cliff edge, where a base liquid with a pH of about 11 was visible.
Another one of these discoveries was the giant worms and clams that were capable of “chemosynthesis” without any light whatsoever — an evolutionary adaptation that changed textbooks and previous ideas that sunlight was required to make any life possible. Because of life’s newly discovered minimum requirements, Ballard suggested the possibility of life in our galaxy and within our own solar system outside of Earth.
At this point I was like “Wait. Did the… oceanographer just connect this deep sea discovery to space? Who just divided by zero?”
He did. He explained that because we have a different understanding of life, interplanetary reproduction could be possible by meteorites striking matter off planets, causing the integration of life. If nothing else, it presented a broader view to the theory of Gaia.
He did have more to say about space, though. “Do you know that 50% of the United States is underwater?” “Do you know that the NASA budget is 1,000 times greater than what I get for underwater exploration?”
“We know more about Space than we do the bottom of our oceans. And that’s stupid.”
He made a good argument. 50% of our land is underwater. Continental shelves beneath the ocean were legally considered US “soil” when Reagan signed a bill that expanded our actual nation during his presidency.
What does it matter though? It’s underwater!
No, actually, that’s stupid. There are billions of dollars of resources underwater. It’s just that no one knows where it is, because no one is searching for it.
He went on to show slides of ancient trade routes in the Mediterranean Sea. Because of the culture, the men would drink wine on these long excursions, and they drank heavily. Thousands of wine jars are on the bottom of the ocean. It was amazing seeing perfectly preserved jars from two thousand years ago, but that wasn’t anything compared to a shipwreck at the bottom of the Black Sea, where after 200 meters the water has no oxygen at all. Normally, wood is eaten away in ocean water within a year, but in the conditions of the black sea, they were in perfect condition after thousands of years. It was truly remarkable and really showed the potential of hidden history, and as Ballard said, “The ocean is the largest museum in the world.”
At the end of his presentation, Ballard explained that he is giving thousands of troubled students through the nation the opportunity to study and learn in Boys and Girls Clubs through the US. He said that if he can make a child’s jaw drop at photos, then he knew he could put information in their heads too.
From History, Technology, his background, Biology, Life, Undercover work for the Government (while he was searching for the Titanic), teaching children, and basketball, he managed in his time to give everyone advice:
“Failure is the best teacher you’ll ever meet.”
Robert Ballard’s innovation and big-picture endeavor for education is wide-spread, and it was truly a great experience to see even an hour’s window into it.
If you’re interested in seeing deep sea exploration, right now you can watch from his website.
They are currently off the coast of Israel. They aren’t going to be there for too much longer, so check it out quickly!