Famed Discoverer of the Titanic Explores His Past


Julia Frazer
Staff Writer
Photo by Lorenzo Basilio, Staff Photographer

University of California, Santa Barbara’s Arts & Lectures presented oceanographer and UCSB alum Dr. Robert Ballard at Campbell Hall on Sunday, April 27, for the All Gaucho Reunion and the final event in the “National Geographic Live” series.

Ballard, one of the most well-known deep sea explorers in the world, is best known for his landmark discovery of the Titanic, which was lost more than 12,000 feet deep in the Atlantic Ocean. Since then, Ballard has gone on over a hundred deep-sea expeditions all over the world.

The sold-out event was filled with attendees of all ages, many of whom were present for the All Gaucho Reunion. Because of the high number of UCSB alumni, Ballard established a tight rapport with the audience, trading jokes about heavy course loads and reminiscing about his time attending the Santa Barbara campus.

“Santa Barbara poured the mold of what is Bob Ballard,” said Jan Campbell, president of the UCSB Alumni Association, in her introduction.

After his post-graduate education, Ballard became a naval officer and began working in deep-sea submarine exploration. He was on the first manned expedition of the largest mountain range on Earth, the Mid-Ocean Ridge.

“It was an exciting time back then,” said Ballard. A revolution in the earth sciences was occurring, and Ballard was at the forefront of deep-sea discoveries, exclaiming, “There are better maps of Mars than our own planet.”

After exploring the Mid-Ocean Ridge, Ballard explored the Galápagos Islands and made astounding discoveries of new types of life forms on Earth, which have forever shifted human understanding of life on both Earth and potentially elsewhere in the solar system.

Ballard explained that his discovery of the Titanic was actually a byproduct of another assignment from the navy.

“Most of the important things I [discovered, I] tripped over by accident,” said Ballard.

To further his explorations of the sea, Ballard purchased his own boat, The Nautilus, to carry out open-source voyages on the ocean and share discoveries with the world through streaming video.

“Our mission is the new Lewis and Clark exploration of America,” said Ballard. “We have no idea what we’re going to encounter.”

Ballard innovated the concept of an international group of expert scientists and explorers who work from remote command centers to take advantage of surprise discoveries.

“The power of this technology is quite amazing,” said Ballard. “A terabyte [of information shared] a day… It’s like drinking water from a fire hydrant!” Ballard integrated this network into a project influencing millions of people. Ballard’s JASON Project, an award-winning educational program, reaches more than 1.7 million students and 38,000 teachers.

In his past education, Ballard graduated from UCSB in 1965 with bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and geology. He has been the recipient of countless awards, including The Explorers Club Medal and the Hubbard Medal, National Geographic’s highest award. The UCSB graduate also discovered shipwrecks Bismarck and Yorktown and has maintained a position at the forefront of deep-sea technology. His books on the discovery of the shipwrecks of Titanic and Bismarck were both number one best sellers on the New York Times list, and his recent Return to Titanic special on the National Geographic Channel was the highest-rated show in the channel’s history.

For more information about Ballard’s current work with the Nautilus, please visit http://www.nautiluslive.org.