TED 2008: Robert Ballard on exploring the ocean

(I'm liveblogging from TED 2008, in Monterey, CA)

Presenter: Geophysicist and shipwreck explorer Robert Ballard unearth's lost histories in the ocean.

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Why are people interested in going into space, but not in exploring the ocean? Most of the Southern Hemisphere is unexplored. It's naive to think that the easter bunny put all the resources on the continents. We are leaving so much of the table. 71% of Earth is ocean.

Ballard's gone on over 150 expeditions. On a good day we might have four people at the average depth of the Earth. 1/4 of our planet is a single mountain range, but we went to the moon before we went to the largest feature of our own planet. Tens of thousands of active volcanoes are down there. It's a very alive place.

No one had gone into that boundary of creation until 1974 when we went in a little submarine and went into the rift valley. No light can penetrate, no photosynthesis. We thought there'd be no life down there. Lots of tube worms, clam beds sitting on barren rock but when we opened them their body had taken over by a bacteria that uses chemosynthesis, not photosynthesis.

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Ballard designed robotic subs to continue to search the bottom of the ocean (I would not let an adult drive my robot sub, because they don't have enough gaming experience, but I'l let a kid do it because they know how to control it). Found upside-down pools of water with the pH of Drano but it harbored life. Methane volcanoes. Also finding ships -- Titanic, the Bismarck, and many of the estimated 1,000,000 ships that have sunk.

NOAA's Office of Exploration is a ship that will explore unknown America - the 50% of US territory that's underwater.

Chris Anderson, who runs TED, asks Ballard whether or not we should learn about sustainability on the surface before we start harvesting what the "Easter Bunny" left for us in the Ocean. Ballard isn't really answering the question, he just says he didn't take artifacts from the Titanic or belt buckles from sunken Navy ship.