GALVESTON — In 1985, Dr. Robert Ballard and his crew from the University of Rhode Island, along with the U.S. Navy, were the first to discover the wreckage of the famed RMS Titanic, after it lay on the ocean floor for 73 years.
Using the robot craft Argo, Ballard’s idea that Titanic had imploded was confirmed on September 1, 1985 by following an undersea debris trail to the ship, which was in two distinct parts.
Ballard’s other oceanographic discoveries include the German battleship Bismarck in 1989, RMS Lusitania in 1993, the Yorktown in 1998 and John F. Kennedy’s PT-109 in 2002.
Ballard founded the Ocean Exploration Trust (OET) in 2008 to, “Engage in ocean exploration and research, advance ocean technology and promote education in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).”
Every year, Ballard and his ever-changing crew of scientists, educators and students embark on an expedition aboard the Exploration Vessel E/V Nautilus to gather information about the sea floor and other oceanic ecosystems and disseminate it via “telepresence” to people all around the world.
They arrived in Galveston Thursday following a Gulf of Mexico expedition.
Telepresence is OET’s word for their ability to share data, ideas and updates with not only their social media followers, but schools, Universities, educators and scientists all around the world.
“If we find something new, no matter what time it is, we have a book of ‘on call’ scientists that we contact via telepresence. It may be 2 a.m., but these people are excited to get a call like that,” said Ballard. “That way, we can all be looking at the same thing on these high definition screens and discussing what we may have.”
The gathering and sharing of information is primarily done in the Control Van via Nautilus’s 2.4 meter tracking antenna, which is capable of data speeds up to 20 Mbps. There is a full production studio on board, as well as a data processing and a wet lab and a hangar and workshop for Nautilus’s resident Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) Hercules and Argus.
The two ROVs are the “eyes” for the scientific crew as they explore the ocean floor in an ecologically responsible manner, while their humans stay safely on the ship. “With the ROVs, there’s really no reason for humans to have to brave the deep anymore,” said Ballard. “The cameras and high definition monitors make it almost like being there. Pretty soon, we hope to have a whole room that we can make into an IMAX-like theater. We’ll have to warn people not to run if they get overwhelmed. Just close your eyes!”
Ballard, now 73, lights up when he talks about his passion for inspiring young people.
“We are targeting middle school-aged kids with our programs,” Ballard said. “They have to decide in junior high if they are going to do STEM classes or not, so we hope to interest them before they have to make that decision.”
“The U.S. is a ‘star-based’ society,” Ballard added. “Whether it’s the movies or sports, everyone wants to be a star. This way, the shy, quiet kid can come to the Nautilus or participate in one of our remote programs and end up in one of our productions. Then, all the other kids see him or her and realize that, hey, this kid’s a star, too.”
OET offers numerous opportunities for teachers and students.
“The Science Communication Fellowship (SCF) Program immerses formal and informal educators in the Nautilus Corps of Exploration and empowers them to bring ocean exploration to a global audience via the Nautilus Live website.
“Fellows share accounts of ocean science, expedition operations and daily life with audiences through live audio commentary and question-and-answer sessions from aboard the ship.
“Through participation in live interactions with student groups and public audiences, Fellows also engage people of all ages in real-time exploration. Science Communication Fellows then bring their expedition experience back to their own classrooms, organizations and communities in the form of engaging lesson plans and activities centered around their time at sea aboard Nautilus.
“The Honors Research Program (HRP) brings a small group of honors-level high school students to the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography and to E/V Nautilus for one to two weeks during the summer and fall.
“HRP students work with scientists and engineers to learn about oceanography, data visualization techniques, and the scientific research process. After completing a research project on shore based on data collected by Nautilus, HRP students participate in sea-going expeditions to work with the Corps of Exploration and stand watch as Data Loggers, alongside scientists and engineers.
“The Nautilus Science and Engineering Internship Program aims to train undergraduate and graduate students studying ocean science, engineering and video/film in the at-sea environment.
“Intern positions entail two to five week periods working aboard E/V Nautilus as Data Loggers, ROV Engineers, or Video Engineers.
“All interns spend their time on Nautilus working with a wide array of scientists, engineers, students, and educators.
“Science interns learn how to make scientific observations and process digital data and physical samples. ROV interns learn how to maintain and operate the exploration vehicles and systems. Video engineering and film interns learn how to operate video for the ROVs and work with the communications team to share the Nautilus story.
“All interns gain experience in communications and leadership, including participating in educational outreach activities, such as live interviews with shore,” according to the website.
During the 2015 Exploration Season, E/V Nautilus and its Corps of Exploration are exploring sites ranging from the Gulf of Mexico to British Columbia from April to late September.
More than six weeks of this time will be used to explore and map the Galapagos Rift and the site of the first hydrothermal vent discovery in 1977.
A hydrothermal vent is a crack in the Earth’s surface from which water heated by the Earth’s interior comes out. In contrast to the most of the sea, the areas around oceanic hydrothermal vents are biologically diverse because certain species have evolved to depend on the natural chemicals secreted by the vents.
While the Nautilus was in the Gulf of Mexico from May 14 to May 19, the crew explored hard substrate coral habitats, hydrocarbon seeps and brine pools.
Two middle school teachers from Lake Charles, La., spent six days aboard the Nautilus, chatting with their students daily using telepresence. “It was the experience of a lifetime,” said sixth grade teacher Amanda Boudreaux.
Citgo generously sponsored the ship-to-shore event in Galveston on Tuesday (May 19).
Visit NautilusLive.org to learn more about the E/V Nautilus and her crew. Visitors may also watch activities in real time.