• Ocean Explorer: Robert Ballard
    Robert "Bob" Ballard is an ocean explorer.

    Photograph by Pritt Vesilind

    Role Models
    Bob believes that one way to get the next generation excited about science, engineering, and math is by having role models in these fields. He works with the Corps of Exploration, a crew of scientists and engineers who he hopes can serve as role models for todays students.

    By Stuart Thornton

    Thursday, November 1, 2012

    Robert, nicknamed Bob, is probably best known for discovering the shipwrecks of the Titanic and the Bismark. He is also a distinguished oceanographer who helped discover hydrothermal vents on the seafloor.

    Bob relates stories about all these expeditions, as well as how geology and oceanography define our world, in the National Geographic Channel series Alien Deep.

    EARLY WORK

    Bob grew up in the southern California cities of San Diego and Los Angeles. There, he was exposed to scientists who studied the ocean.

    “When attending elementary school in San Diego, many of my neighbors worked at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, California,” he says by email.

    Bob’s familiarity and fascination with the ocean at times put him in danger, but the experiences helped him develop a healthy respect for the sea, and the scientists and engineers who make their living there.

    “When I went out to sea on my first expedition at the age of 17 on a National Science Foundation summer scholarship between junior and senior years in high school, we were hit by a rogue wave that almost sank the ship,” he says. “We were joined by a Coast Guard Cutter that escorted us back to shore.”

    After that scholarship expedition, Bob continued pursuing his interest in ocean exploration. He worked summers on designing deep-diving submersibles for North American Aviation’s Ocean Systems Group, for instance.

    Bob graduated with undergraduate degrees in chemistry and geology from the University of California at Santa Barbara while working for General Motors’ Defense Research Laboratories Sea Operations Department. He secured a PhD from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in marine geology while employed by the Ocean Systems Group in Long Beach.

    Bob also worked in a dive shop and trained dolphins at Sea Life Park and the Oceanic Institute in Waimanalo, Hawaii.

    MOST EXCITING PART OF YOUR WORK

    “My independence and the ability to go where no one else has gone on planet Earth.”

    MOST DEMANDING PART OF YOUR WORK

    “Raising the money and hiring the team to do what I do.”

    HOW DO YOU DEFINE GEOGRAPHY?

    “To me, it is the planet on which I find myself.”

    GEO-CONNECTION

    Bob says his work as an ocean explorer is directly related to geography.

    “I am constantly trying to better understand the Earth,” he says.

    Bob notes that he consistently uses geographic tools like GPS and GIS in his work.

    “I am an explorer and mapmaker, so all of those tools are critical to what I do,” he says.

    SO, YOU WANT TO BE AN . . . OCEAN EXPLORER

    Bob suggests taking geology and oceanography courses, but he also recommends expanding your scientific background by studying biology, chemistry, geology, and physics of the sea.

    GET INVOLVED

    Bob says the websites www.nautiluslive.org and www.oceanexplorationtrust.com are great for people interested in ocean exploration. Both websites have information on Bob’s current expeditions.

    He also encourages people to visit two organizations he is involved with: the Ocean Exploration Center at Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut, and the Inner Space Center at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography in Narragansett, Rhode Island.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    Bismark Noun

    German battleship that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1941.

    Coast Guard Cutter Noun

    (USCGC) ship at least 19.8 meters (65 feet) in length, commissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard.

    dive shop Noun

    facility that sells scuba and snorkeling equipment, as well as provides classes and information on diving conditions.

    engineer Noun

    person who plans the building of things, such as structures (construction engineer) or substances (chemical engineer).

    expedition Noun

    journey with a specific purpose, such as exploration.

    geographic information system (GIS) Noun

    any system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on the Earth's surface.

    Encyclopedic Entry: GIS (geographic information system)
    geography Noun

    study of places and the relationships between people and their environments.

    Encyclopedic Entry: geography
    geology Noun

    study of the physical history of the Earth, its composition, its structure, and the processes that form and change it.

    Global Positioning System (GPS) Noun

    system of satellites and receiving devices used to determine the location of something on Earth.

    hydrothermal Adjective

    related to hot water, especially water heated by the Earth's internal temperature.

    National Science Foundation Noun

    government agency whose mission is "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense."

    oceanographer Noun

    person who studies the ocean.

    PhD Noun

    (doctor of philosophy) highest degree offered by most graduate schools.

    rogue wave Noun

    unusually large wave not associated with a storm system or tsunami. Also called a freak wave, monster wave, or extreme wave.

    shipwreck Noun

    remains of a sunken marine vessel.

    submersible Noun

    small submarine used for research and exploration.

    Titanic Noun

    luxury cruise ship that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912.

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National Science Foundation