Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Mysteries of the Deep


Photo of Jacobsen Maria Jacobsen

Robert D. Ballard received his undergraduate degree in Geology and Chemistry from the University of California. He attended graduate school at the University of Southern California, the University of Hawaii's Graduate School of Oceanography and received his Ph.D. in Marine Geology and Geophysics from the University of Rhode Island. During the Vietnam War, he served on active duty as an Ensign, Lt. J.G. and finally as a Lieutenant. Ballard has rejoined the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Commander.

Ballard has led or participated in more than 100 deep-sea expeditions including the use of the deep-diving submersible ALVIN and the Navy's nuclear research submarine NR-1. Ballard is best known as the discoverer of the ocean liner R.M.S. Titanic, and his expeditions include the first discovery of high temperature black smokers.

Ballard retired from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1997, where he was senior scientist and director of the Center for Marine Exploration. Founder and head of the Institute for Exploration (IFE) at Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut, Ballard today advocates the use of technology such as advanced mapping and imaging systems, underwater robotics and manned-submersibles in deep-sea exploration.

Dr. Ballard is an Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society. He is Founder and President of Institute for Exploration which is based at Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration in Mystic, Connecticut.


For links to Robert Ballard's home page and other related infomation please see our resources page.

Ballard Responds:

Matthew asks:
Dear Mr. Ballard, My name is Matthew B. I am in a grade 6, Deaf and Hard of Hearing class, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Can you tell me everything you know about the Titanic. Where can I find out more about it I'm fascinated about the Titanic. Everyday I think about building the Titanic II which will be unsinkable. Yours Truly, Matthew

Ballard's response:
Dear Matthew, Well, thanks for your question. It would take a long time to tell you everything I know about the Titanic. There's a book I did by Scholastic called Exploring the Titanic. It's very popular among boys your age. You can get a copy and read what so many other kids enjoy reading about.

Steve asks:
Mr. B. Ballard I would like to say first of all, that the segment on the vents and hydrogen sulfide stuff was very interesting. But the most interesting to me was your proposal for a floating habitat project. I would like to know more about this is there a site for this project?

Ballard's response:
It's amazing how many people are fascinated by that. I'm glad. We have built a ship like that for research purposes called the FLIP, which stands for Floating Instrument Platform, situated in San Diego, CA, operated by Scripps Institution of Oceanography. You can learn more about FLIP at

Carol & Glenn Barnier asks:
My son and I were fascinated by the tube worms deep in the ocean near the heat vents. What puzzled us was the seeming lack of impact of the immense pressure on this creature. Why would so soft and malleable an animal not be crushed under such a pressure? Why would it not explode when raised to the surface before it was put in a pressurized chamber? If we could fill our lungs with oxygenated fluid like has been done experimentally on premature infants (I think), would we then have no problems at such depths ourselves?

Your show certainly raised a lot of questions in our house. Thanks!

Ballard's response:
Pressure only affects the gaseous state. Things that are all liquid or all solid do not feel pressure. Even though an animal may be soft, if it has no air inside it's body, it cannot feel pressure. That is also why they don't explode when they come to the surface. They have no air inside their bodies, so nothing can expand. In theory, filling your lungs with oxygenated fluid would protect you from fluid, but the alveoli in your lungs are so delicate that the hydraulic forces would damage them. They've done it in people with Cystic fibrosis to clean the lung. Moving air around the very delicate structures in your lungs is one thing, but moving water around could cause them to hemorrhage.

Vince asks:
I was struck by something Dr. Ballard talked about near the end of the show on the deep sea, about his offland habitat. I too have had thought about the same idea many times myself, and I am wondering if you could tell me what type of education would be needed to pursue a job in that type of field. Thanks, Vince Spicer

Ballard's response:
It's amazing to me that we are conducing experiments on how to grow plants on Mars and the moon and the International Space Station, but there is no program dealing with an offshore habitat like the one I suggested. I am trying to change that, but there is no source of funding in the federal government to fund such a project.

Del Hewlett asks:
Will you be writing a book about your experiences, your theories, your futuristic projections?

Ballard's response:
I've written two books that you might want to read:
The Eternal Darkness, published by Princeton University Press, and Adventures in Ocean Exploration: From the Discovery of the Titanic to the Search for Noah's Flood, published by National Geographic Society.

Rick Medlock asks:
Until the SAF program, I hadn't heard about the life surrounding the black smokers, nor that it seems to defy the axiom that "life" relies upon the energy of the sun. One would think that this would generate a great deal of excitement, not only in the scientific community, but also with the general public. I was wondering why you think that there hasn't been more publicity surrounding the discovery [not targeted for the scientific community that is]?

Ballard's response:
Well, it's just that that's the nature of the beast. Science- even though you think it's exciting and you think the general public should become excited about it- it doesn't happen. We'd love the public to have science on their minds all the time, but it's generally not - unfortunately. However, when we discovered the Black Smokers in 1977, there was some media attention. National Geographic did a show in 1979-80 called "Dive to the Edge of Creation." That was my first show.

back to top


return to show page

The Uncivilized Engine of WarInto the Deep: The Early PioneersInto the Deep:Remote Control ExplorationInto the Deep:Deep Ocean ArcheologyInto the Deep: A Scientific Revolution Teaching guide Email Scientists Watch Online Web Links & More E-mail scientists Search Homepage