Wednesday, November 17, 2004


Ballard Wants To Paint Titanic To Preserve Wreck


By Joe Wojtas

The Titanic's port bow rail, chains and an auxiliary
anchor boom are dripping with “rusticles” after nearly
a century at the bottom of the Atlantic. Discoverer
Robert Ballard has found parts of the ship damaged by
landings from mini-submarines as well as by natural

Mystic -- Robert Ballard, the man who discovered the Titanic, wants to scrape and repaint the hull of the sunken ship as part of an effort to preserve it.

Ballard, head of the Institute for Exploration at Mystic Aquarium, returned this spring to the famous wreck he located some 13,000 feet below the surface of the North Atlantic in 1985. He documented the deterioration of the site, and plans to eventually install cameras in the wreck that people could use to explore it from their home computers.

“I've talked about doing a lot of things that people have said were crazy, and I've done every one of them,” Ballard said Monday as he sat in his office at the aquarium.

A decade ago, when Ballard announced he was moving the base of his deep-sea explorations from Woods Hole, Mass., to Mystic, he talked about “telepresence.” Since then, he and his team of engineers and scientists have developed and tested the technology that would enable people to explore the shipwrecks he's found, the country's marine sanctuaries and discoveries yet to come.

“Electronic travel is inevitable and I want to be the pioneer of it,” he said.

Ballard discussed his plan in an interview Monday, one of several he granted in connection with the promotion of his just-released book “Return to Titanic.” The glossy, hardcover volume recounts the ship's history, Ballard's discovery of its wreck and his return to the site a few months ago. The book's highlight may be its high-resolution images of the wreck, which show damage caused by mini-submarines that have landed on it. Especially striking are photos of the ship's bow dripping with orange “rusticles” and of women's shoes and combs lying on the ocean bottom.

The book was published by the National Geographic Society, which funded Ballard's two trips to Titanic. Its release coincides with a feature article about the return expedition in the December issue of National Geographic magazine as well as a television special that will air at 9 p.m. Dec. 16 on the National Geographic Channel. In addition, the aquarium has opened an extensive exhibit on the ship.

The renewed focus on the wreck of the Titanic has given Ballard an opportunity to press his case for protecting the site from further damage.

Ballard said he had heard stories about the damage mini-subs had inflicted when they landed on the ship or crashed into it. His return expedition was intended to document that damage along with the natural deterioration that has occurred over the past 18 years. Ballard took a detailed photo mosaic of the ship and compared it to one he had made in 1986.

A photo released by the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography
& Institute for Exploration / University of Rhode Island Graduate
School of Oceanography shows bottles from the Titanic lined up in
the vessel's debris field.

He said found numerous areas where the subs had crushed parts of the deck. He said the bell and light on the mast are now missing, and that some steel has been exposed to seawater for the first time.

“No one is owning up to it,” he said of the damage. “So what we're trying to say is ‘visit but don't touch. When you go there just don't land on it.' ”

The United States and Great Britain have signed a treaty that bans its people from damaging the wreck. France and Russia have not signed the pact and Ballard has been working with the State Department to urge the two nations to do so.

“It would establish a protocol for visitors,” he said. “It's like you don't go to Gettysburg with a shovel.”

Ballard said supertankers now use robotic vessels to clean and paint their hulls while they are under water. He said that same technique could be used on the Titanic, which still has antifouling paint, to inhibit marine growth, on its hull 92 years after it sank.

Ballard said he is not so worried about the inside of the ship because the low oxygen content of the water means many items likely will be well preserved. That could make for some exciting finds when “telepresence” visitors manipulate cameras that reveal the interior of the ship.

Salvage firms have recovered about 6,000 artifacts, mostly from the debris field around the ship but some rogue salvors are thought to have gone inside to remove items. Ballard opposes the effort to retrieve artifacts because he considers the ship a graveyard for the 1,523 people who perished when it sank and thinks it should be left undisturbed.

Ballard employed the technology that could eventually bring the Titanic into people's homes during his return to the ship in May and June. Two of his remotely operated vehicles took high-resolution video of the wreck and sent signals to a surface ship more than two miles above.

The signals were then sent to a satellite, which beamed them back to the United States and onto the emerging Internet-2 network. From there they went to Ballard's Inner Space Center at the University of Rhode Island, which can send them out to 17 zoos, museums and aquariums, including Mystic, 3,500 Boys and Girls Clubs and universities.

While the technology exists, Ballard said the challenge now is to build a market for it, something he has been doing for more than a decade. Ballard also sends his live interactive JASON broadcasts to more than 1 million students each year, and he has access to the National Geographic Channel, which reaches 230 million homes in 151 countries.

“The idea is to build a user base to pay the fees to make this economically viable,” he said. “The world is getting wired, so we're getting ready for the new tomorrow.”

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?