Insights – July 2009

Dr. Robert Ballard, the oceanographer who found the Titanic wreckage on the North Atlantic Ocean floor in 1985, spoke at the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute’s annual meeting in June. Dr. Ballard is a fascinating speaker who has achieved a great deal throughout his colorful career.

Ballard’s interest in oceanography began shortly after reading “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” as a young boy. He later became a commander in the United States Navy, and is also credited with finding the German battleship Bismarck, the USS Yorktown that sank during the battle of Midway, and John F. Kennedy’s PT-109. He was also commissioned to find two Navy nuclear-power submarines that sank during the Cold War.

While his presentation to our group was almost two hours long, Ballard told the story of his life with the help of some extraordinary underwater photography. Through these pictures, he was able to show us the ocean is made up of peaks and valleys, with higher mountains under the water than above.

Ballard also described the process of trying to find the merchant vessels that crossed the Mediterranean Sea thousands of years ago. While those wooden vessels would not still be intact because of the biological “termites” that destroy wood over time, he was interested in finding what was on those ships. Ballard surmised since wine was such a precious commodity then, the ancient crews would have been helping themselves to some of that cargo as they sailed. Sure enough, Ballard and his underwater team found trails of empty wine casks that led them to dozens of ships that sank thousands of years ago between North Africa and the Italian coast.

As interesting as all of this was to the audience, the most impressive part of the presentation had to do with Ballard’s knowledge of the vast, untapped resources beneath the ocean. It is his opinion we have wasted billions of dollars exploring outer space, and still do not know much about our own planet. He believes there are huge stores of minerals, petroleum and precious metals yet to be discovered that lay hidden under the water that covers two-thirds of the earth’s surface.

If that hypothesis is true, we should be investing our hard-to-come-by tax dollars in something with a more lucrative payback. Who knows what else we might find down there.

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