As a young man, at a time when most of his peers were turning their eyes to deep space, Robert Ballard came under the spell both of scientific inquiry and of the ocean. After taking a doctorate in marine geology and geophysics, he spent three decades at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, through which he participated in more than a hundred deep-sea expeditions. Writing from the point of view of "a privileged witness to a fascinating burst of exploration," Ballard recounts many of those explorations, including the first up-close studies of the great mid-ocean ridge of volcanic mountains that circles the globe, full of seafloor vents and "black smokers." Along the way Ballard provides a brief history of modern oceanography, looking at the contributions of such scientists as Charles William Beebe and Otis Barton, whose legendary dives in the early 1930s paved the way for much subsequent research. Ballard's narrative takes on particular vigor when he describes, in fascinating detail, his team's search for the wreckage of the Titanic--a search that relied on intelligent guesswork as much as on hard evidence. The methods he and his colleagues used--employing, among other things, sophisticated remote-control craft--to find the unfortunate vessel ushered in a new era of deep-ocean research, a contribution in which Ballard takes justified pride. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
The man who found the Titanic, discovered black smokers on the sea floor and first ventured into the mid-Atlantic ridge tells the story of deep-sea exploration through his own story and those of the argonauts who preceded him into "the abyss." Ballard begins in 1930, when "the first humans entered the world of eternal darkness and returned alive"--Charles William Beebe and Otis Barton, who descended 1,426 feet in a bathysphere, basically a hollow steel ball let down via cable. Highlighting both the human drama and technical achievements of this and subsequent dives, Ballard takes the story through Auguste Piccard's bathyscaphe, which in 1960 carried Piccard's son, Jacques, to 35,800 feet in the Pacific's Challenger Deep--the bottom of the world--to the subsequent development of small, more maneuverable submersibles, particularly Alvin, within which Ballard explored the mid-ocean ridge and, in a project of great biological import, those smokers, undersea hot vents in which life may have first arisen on Earth; and on to the recent advent of remote-controlled "eyes" like Argo and Jason Junior, which have not only allowed for the surveying of the Titanic and other historic wrecks, reinvigorating the field of marine archeology, but which, linked to the Net, have also allowed scientists to explore the sea bottom from the safety of shore. Replete with personal anecdotes, this history gives an insider's savvy look at how science, commerce and military interests have combined to open up a new frontier of exploration. Ballard weighs the pros and cons of various means of descent, and acts always as a booster of his field. Scores of photographs highlight the steadily absorbing text; together, words and pictures present a vital and authoritative general history of humanity's adventures deep beneath the waves.
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