In this episode of Bulletproof Radio, an incredibly special guest explores the vast depths of the oceans uncovering mysteries, proving theories, and revealing artifacts that tell a story about the history of humankind.
And I got to talk to him via satellite phone as he was heading out to sea on his ship, Nautilus.
Oceanographer and marine geologist Bob Ballard has led nearly 160 deep-sea expeditions and worked with the Navy on top-secret missions throughout an underwater career spanning six decades. It all began with a love of California’s Mission Bay tide pools.
“Everyone’s born with that flame of curiosity,” Bob says. “Every child is born a scientist, and yet the educational system can turn off that pilot light and kill it. So, I was lucky enough right when my pilot light was getting low, someone put their arm around me and said, “You can do it.” Helped me through it. I had people all the way.”
He’s gone on to discover ships thought long lost and provide extraordinary new understandings and discoveries in marine geology, geophysics, biology, and chemistry.
He’s discovered new life-forms, traced ancient trade routes, developed robots that roam the ocean floor, and opened an amazing underwater world to kids through telepresence.
One of his astonishing contributions includes discovering a luxury steamship at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in 1985. That would be the RMS Titanic. It rests off the eastern coast of the Canadian province Newfoundland.
Now 79, he talks openly of his dyslexia, which he didn’t even know he had until a few years ago. He just thought his brain worked differently than other people’s. “I do not look at it as a disadvantage,” Bob says. “I look at it as an advantage. The rules inside the box were written by non-dyslexics and they were simply not fair. I live outside the box.”
His work continues with a brand-new adventure that just launched in July 2021. Bob put together a group of organizations that embarked on a 10-year $200 million federally funded study of the Pacific Ocean section what’s called the offshore Economic Exclusion Zone. This includes locations such as Guam and American Samoa.
“We own more land underwater than any nation on earth, and yet we have better maps of Mars than have of the United States of America,” Bob says. “Go figure.”
This expedition will map the water’s bottom and also study whole entire water column, from the shoreline to the abyss. You can even follow along to see what’s happening! Nautilus Live, Ocean Exploration Trust.
He chronicles his life in his new memoir, “Into The Deep: A Memoir from the Man Who Found Titanic” and in the new National Geographic documentary special, “Bob Ballard, An Explorer’s Life.”
“I’m in the process of fessing up,” he says in the documentary.
Bob’s scientific interests run the gamut from the volcanic, tectonic, and hydrothermal processes of the mid-ocean ridge to deep-sea archaeology and maritime history. As the National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, Bob spearheads the Nautilus expeditions (open-ended voyages of ocean discovery) and shares his finds with the world through streaming video. Learn more about his experience and expeditions here.
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Follow Along with the Transcript
Book: “Into the Deep: A Memoir from the Man Who Found Titanic”
Documentary: “Bob Ballard, an Explorers Life”
- You were 72 when you figured out you had dyslexia. – 2:31
- Dr. Brock and Fernette Eide who wrote a book called The Dyslexic Advantage, and I had never heard those two words in the same phrase. – 3:19
- In your book, you’re talking about some of the things that made you who you are, and certainly dyslexia is part of that, but you’ve lived a life that is so different than most people, I want to know what really made you who you are. So is this parenting? Is this early childhood? Where did this come from? – 7:43
- Every child is born a scientist, and yet the educational system can turn off that pilot light and kill it. – 9:38
- “Listen, your job is secure because it’s impossible to prove that something that doesn’t exist doesn’t exist. So keep selling Nessy burgers. You’re just fine.” – 12:08
- The shells from 15,000 years old to 7,500 will be called BPE, before the present era, which is about 5,000 BC in our terminology. And everything after that was salt water. – 15:21
- I’m an optimist because you know what’s really cool about optimism and pessimism? You have a choice, and I choose to be optimistic. – 17:05
- One of the early things you did is you contributed greatly to the tectonic plate theory. – 18:13
- I always tell people, if you can’t tell a fifth grader what you’re doing, you don’t know what you’re doing. – 19:09
- When we discovered that, that the entire volume of the world’s oceans goes inside the earth and out every six to eight million years, we threw away the chemistry book. That was a pretty good run. – 24:06
- I wander a lot, and I wander into someone else’s turf. Heaven forbid when I do that. Who are you? What makes you think you can walk into my area of science? I just wander around. – 26:47
- We’ve been asked to map the 50% of America that lies beneath the sea. We own more land underwater than any nation on earth. It’s called the Exclusive Economic Zone, and yet we have better maps of Mars than have of the United States of America. – 31:23
- I learned how to control and use my energy in a very useful way. So I have a rhythm that I have where I do physical things. – 38:06
- And again, I tell kids, if you don’t quit, you can’t lose. You just keep going. – 40:58
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