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The sea holds wealth of untapped resources, Ballard says
[November 13, 2011]

The sea holds wealth of untapped resources, Ballard says

Nov 13, 2011 (Richmond Times-Dispatch - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The United States has the largest underwater holdings in the world, famed ocean explorer Robert D. Ballard says, yet "we have better maps of Mars." "We own all the rights to what's down there," Ballard said Saturday night at the Richmond Forum. "We're talking about vast resources." The half of the country that's underwater -- including marine realms under U.S. jurisdiction around the world -- holds untold treasure in minerals, fisheries, oil and gas deposits, even submarine parks and lost battlefields, said Ballard.

But America spends a thousand times more for the space program than it devotes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's ocean exploration efforts.

"Most people never think about the ocean," he said in an interview before the forum. "They're leaving a lot of money on the table." However, "I'm not interested in raping it," he said. "A civilized society can manage it for the benefit of humanity.

"You can't be a Luddite and say 'stop,'" Ballard said. "I'm in favor of wise management." An oceanography professorship at the University of Rhode Island among his manifold accomplishments, Ballard spoke to a full house at the forum in the Landmark Theater on Saturday.

In more than 130 expeditions, Ballard has made some of the most famous deep-sea discoveries.

He also pioneered using remotely controlled robots for deep-ocean exploration, and he touted the use of electronic communication to make science research widely and instantly accessible -- as it is actually being done.

At the forum, he spoke by video-conference with his ship, the Exploration Vessel Nautilus, sailing on the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel, where it had just found methane gas seeping from the seafloor.

"Here we are making discoveries," expedition leader Dwight Coleman told the forum audience live from the ship.

Ballard is pushing for better education to produce the next generation of American scientists, leaders and workers. "It's what's between your ears that's going to save this country.

"Our society's too technologically advanced not to have a technically literate population," Ballard said.

The Nautilus has embedded educators doing regular programs to "turn kids on to science" via electronic communications, he said. "We need every kid in the room right now. My team is 45 percent women, moving to 55 percent. It used to be zero." Ballard is celebrated for finding the wreck of the ocean liner Titanic 12,500 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean in 1985.

But before the forum, the ocean scientist said he is proudest of some of his purely scientific discoveries.

Ballard singled out his discoveries that the oceans' waters are recycled slowly through the Earth's crust, which explains the mineral composition of sea water, and that plant and animals live by synthesizing food energy chemically in deeply submerged thermal vents, which has implications for the possibility of life on other planets.

Ballard said he has been in the ocean exploration business for 52 years.

Still, "we've seen less than 1 percent," he said. "What's the other 99 [percent] hold for us? "I don't know what's out there," Ballard said.

"Just let me look." (804) 649-6813 ___ (c)2011 the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Va.) Visit the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Va.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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