Ocean Explorer Robert Ballard

Ocean Explorer Robert Ballard

Dr. Robert Ballard is an ocean explorer who has discovered shipwrecks (including the R.M.S. Titanic!) as well as the weird world of hydrothermal vents.


5 - 12+


Earth Science, Experiential Learning, Oceanography

Robert, nicknamed Bob, is probably best known for discovering the shipwrecks of the Titanic and the Bismarck. He is also a distinguished oceanographer who helped discover hydrothermal vents on the seafloor.

Bob relates stories about all these expeditions, as well as how geology and oceanography define our world, in the National Geographic Channel series Alien Deep.


Bob grew up in the southern California cities of San Diego and Los Angeles. There, he was exposed to scientists who studied the ocean.

“When attending elementary school in San Diego, many of my neighbors worked at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, California,” he says by email.

Bob’s familiarity and fascination with the ocean at times put him in danger, but the experiences helped him develop a healthy respect for the sea, and the scientists and engineers who make their living there.

“When I went out to sea on my first expedition at the age of 17 on a National Science Foundation summer scholarship between junior and senior years in high school, we were hit by a rogue wave that almost sank the ship,” he says. “We were joined by a Coast Guard Cutter that escorted us back to shore.”

After that scholarship expedition, Bob continued pursuing his interest in ocean exploration. He worked summers on designing deep-diving submersibles for North American Aviation’s Ocean Systems Group, for instance.

Bob graduated with undergraduate degrees in chemistry and geology from the University of California at Santa Barbara while working for General Motors’ Defense Research Laboratories Sea Operations Department. He secured a PhD from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in marine geology while employed by the Ocean Systems Group in Long Beach.

Bob also worked in a dive shop and trained dolphins at Sea Life Park and the Oceanic Institute in Waimanalo, Hawaii.


“My independence and the ability to go where no one else has gone on planet Earth.”


“Raising the money and hiring the team to do what I do.”


“To me, it is the planet on which I find myself.”


Bob says his work as an ocean explorer is directly related to geography.

“I am constantly trying to better understand the Earth,” he says.

Bob notes that he consistently uses geographic tools like GPS and GIS in his work.

“I am an explorer and mapmaker, so all of those tools are critical to what I do,” he says.


Bob suggests taking geology and oceanography courses, but he also recommends expanding your scientific background by studying biology, chemistry, geology, and physics of the sea.


Bob says the websites www.nautiluslive.org and www.oceanexplorationtrust.com are great for people interested in ocean exploration. Both websites have information on Bob’s current expeditions.

He also encourages people to visit two organizations he is involved with: the Ocean Exploration Center at Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut, and the Inner Space Center at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography in Narragansett, Rhode Island.

Fast Fact

Role Models
Bob believes that one way to get the next generation excited about science, engineering, and math is by having role models in these fields. He works with the Corps of Exploration, a crew of scientists and engineers who he hopes can serve as role models for todays students.

Media Credits

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Stuart Thornton
Jeannie Evers, Emdash Editing, Emdash Editing
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

June 6, 2022

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