The Eternal Darkness: A Personal History of Deep-Sea Exploration

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9780691095547: The Eternal Darkness: A Personal History of Deep-Sea Exploration
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Until a few decades ago, the ocean depths were almost as mysterious and inaccessible as outer space. Oceans cover two-thirds of the earth's surface with an average depth of more than two miles--yet humans had never ventured more than a few hundred feet below the waves. One of the great scientific and archaeological feats of our time has been finally to cast light on the "eternal darkness" of the deep sea. This is the story of that achievement, told by the man who has done more than any other to make it possible: Robert Ballard.

Ballard discovered the wreck of the Titanic. He led the teams that discovered hydrothermal vents and "black smokers"--cracks in the ocean floor where springs of superheated water support some of the strangest life-forms on the planet. He was a diver on the team that explored the mid-Atlantic ridge for the first time, confirming the theory of plate tectonics. Today, using a nuclear submarine from the U.S. Navy, he's exploring the ancient trade routes of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea for the remains of historic vessels and their cargo. In this book, he combines science, history, spectacular illustrations, and first-hand stories from his own expeditions in a uniquely personal account of how twentieth-century explorers have pushed back the frontiers of technology to take us into the midst of a world we could once only guess at.

Ballard begins in 1930 with William Beebe and Otis Barton, pioneers of the ocean depths who made the world's first deep-sea dives in a cramped steel sphere. He introduces us to Auguste and Jacques Piccard, whose "Bathyscaph"descended in 1960 to the lowest point on the ocean floor. He reviews the celebrated advances made by Jacques Cousteau. He describes his own major discoveries--from sea-floor spreading to black smokers--as well as his technical breakthroughs, including the development of remote-operated underwater vehicles and the revolutionary search techniques that led to the discovery and exploration of the Titanic, the Nazi battleship Bismarck, ancient trading vessels, and other great ships.

Readers will come away with a richer understanding of history, earth science, biology, and marine technology--and a new appreciation for the remarkable men and women who have explored some of the most remote and fascinating places on the planet.

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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

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"Bob Ballard, building on the early work of Jacques Cousteau, is the preeminent pioneer in truly deep sea exploration and here is the fascinating, gripping story that only he is qualified to tell."--Walter Cronkite

"Bob Ballard's The Eternal Darkness chronicles the exciting 20th-century advances in underwater technology, many of them his own. Their contributions to deep ocean knowledge, exploration, discovery, salvage, and natural resource utilization have forever changed the way we view and understand our planet's oceans, and will, in the future, change the way we care for our seas. Ballard now joins Cousteau as another inspired visionary."--Scott Carpenter

"Bob Ballard is a tenacious explorer of the deep ocean and discoverer of ancient sea treasures. Two thousand years ago no trains, planes, or automobiles existed. Most transportation was by sea. Important knowledge of the past can only be uncovered from where it lies, buried in the ocean floor. Bob exhibits his fascination with the unknown by uncovering history that lies at the bottom of the sea floor that is critical to our understanding of the ancient world."--Jean-Michel Cousteau

"Ballard is one of the great explorers of the age. He is not only a great explorer, but a gifted story-teller and an evangelist for science. His joy and contagious excitement in exploration and science have captured the imagination of thousands of students, and rescuing them from dull science teachers, has converted them to pursuing careers in scientific discovery. Now in The Eternal Darkness he draws on all his talent, and his hair-raising experiences, to capture the rest of us in a great adventurous read."--John F. Lehman

"While making some of the most significant discoveries of all time, from finding the Titanic to exposing the geophysical processes that cause oceans to form and continents to move, explorer-scientist Robert Ballard has lived adventures that combine the best of scientific research and Indiana Jones. Bristling with suspense and laced with wry humor, The Eternal Darkness will captivate even the most seasoned landlubber."--Sylvia A. Earle

"Ballard's perspective on specific events in the history of deep-sea explorations is fresh and exciting. This is an important record of the remarkable progression in technology from extremely primitive underwater diving bells to a multiplicity of manned and unmanned systems enabling human presence in the deep ocean."--J. Frederick Grassle, Rutgers University

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