Best known for his 1985 discovery of the Titanic, Dr. Robert Ballard has succeeded in tracking down numerous other significant shipwrecks, including the Lusitania, the German battleship Bismarck, the lost fleet of Guadalcanal, the U.S. aircraft carrier Yorktown (sunk in the World War II Battle of Midway), and John F. Kennedy’s boat, PT-109.
While those discoveries have captured the imagination of the public, Dr. Ballard believes his most important discoveries were of hydrothermal vents and “black smokers” in the Galapagos Rift and East Pacific Rise in 1977 and 1979 along with their exotic life forms living off the energy of the Earth through a process now called chemosynthesis.
In addition to being a National Geographic Society Explorer-In-Residence and a commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, Dr. Ballard is the founder and president of the Institute for Exploration (IFE) in Mystic, CT.
Ballard was born June 30, 1942, in Wichita, Kansas but moved to California at a very young age and grew up exploring the shore in San Diego and “wanting to be Captain Nemo from Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” He received his undergraduate degrees in chemistry and geology at the University of California–Santa Barbara.
After assignment by the Navy to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Ballard earned a Ph.D. in marine geology and geophysics from the University of Rhode Island in 1974. He spent 30 years at Woods Hole, where he helped develop telecommunications technology to create “tele-presence” for his JASON Project, which allows thousands of schoolchildren to accompany him on his undersea explorations around the globe. In 2001, he returned to his alma mater, joining the Graduate School of Oceanography at URI where he is presently a Professor of Oceanography and Director of the Center for Ocean Exploration and Archaeological Oceanography.
Dr. Ballard has received twenty-one honorary degrees and six military awards. From 1967 to 1997 he served in the U.S. Navy, attaining the rank of commander in the Naval Reserve. The world-renowned ocean explorer has published numerous books, scientific papers, and a dozen articles in National Geographic Magazine; he has been featured in several National Geographic television programs; and he has received the National Geographic Society’s coveted Hubbard Medal for his “extraordinary accomplishments in coaxing secrets from the world’s oceans.”
Ballard’s discoveries also include sunken remains of ships along the earliest trade routes in the Mediterranean Sea; two ancient Phoenician ships off Israel, the oldest shipwrecks ever found in deep water; and four 1,500-year-old wooden ships, one almost perfectly preserved in the Black Sea. Dr. Ballard’s Black Sea project seeks evidence of Noah’s great flood that may have struck the region in Biblical times. His 1997 best-selling book, Lost Liners, tells the story of the great transatlantic liners through memorable wrecks he has visited.
Dr. Ballard is married to Barbara Earle Ballard and has two sons, Douglas and William, and one daughter, Emily Rose.
An explorer, discoverer and historian, Dr. Ballard’s fascinating journeys have taught us much about our past, and they have encouraged many others to fathom the undiscovered mysteries of the deep sea. The Ocean State could have no more appropriate representative in its Hall of Fame.
– (Dr.) Patrick T. Conley