Ballard’s Cyprus sea expedition ‘going well’

Cyprus Mail
18 August 2012,

By Nathan Morley

FAMED explorer Robert Ballard has told the Cyprus Mail his expedition over the Eratosthenes Seamount is currently collecting images during sweeps of the area using the latest technology to explore the sea floor.

Speaking via satellite phone from his ship the EV Nautilus, Ballard said his team, which comprises of geologists, marine biologists and oceonologists, will remain off the coast of Cyprus for the next two weeks and is conducting explorations at a depth of 800 metres.

“Everything here is going well. It turns out that this seamount is caught in a head on collision – it’s being slammed into the island of Cyprus,” Ballard said.

“There is a trench just to the south of Cyprus and the trench is trying to eat up the Mediterranean as it comes towards them, this is the collision which is going on between the African plate and the Eurasian plate.”

The Eratosthenes Seamount is one of the largest features on the Eastern Mediterranean seafloor and is about 120 km long and 80 km wide. Its peak lies at the depth of 690 metres and it rises 2000 metres above the surrounding seafloor.

Ballard says the intense undersea activity is responsible for many of the earth tremors felt on the island.

“You know Cyprus has its earthquakes, that’s because its southern shore is what’s called a plate boundary where the plates are in collision and this particular area does not want to go quietly. At the top of it is an ancient coral reef – it’s very large almost 10 kilometres by 60 kilometres, so it’s a big piece of real estate.

“It does not want to go down into the trench, so its being squashed by this collision, and that squash is literally squeezing this big mountain and is squeezing methane out of it, it’s really wild.”

Past explorations of the area have shown the existence of a liquid that might contain methane

EV Nautilus is equipped with state-of-the-art exploration technology and remotely operated vehicles named Hercules and Argus, which are being used to view the seafloor with high definition video, take environmental measurements and collect geological and biological samples.

In addition to the Eratosthenes Seamount project, Ballard says that Cyprus will feature on a television special to be broadcast on National Geographic Channel later this year.

“One of the segments for the show was filmed in Cyprus and it features the role Cyprus played during the Bronze Age. Eighty per cent of the copper in the Bronze Age came from Cyprus – so in my business Cyprus is famous. We know those copper mines were actually black smokers from the bottom of the ocean, so there is a huge connection in my career, and to my discoveries, to what is happening on Cyprus.”

Ballard first came to global fame after finding the Titanic two and a half miles below the surface of the Atlantic in 1985, giving the world its first glance of the ghostly ship, which met its end in April 1912 after hitting an iceberg.

However, he told the Cyprus Mail his reason for being in the Atlantic on that choppy day in 1985 was primarily for an entirely different reason.

“On either side of the Titanic, during the cold war our country (USA) lost two nuclear submarines – we lost the Thresher and the Scorpion. In the case of the Scorpion, it actually had nuclear weapons aboard the submarine and our navy did not want to leave those things lying around.”

His mission in the Atlantic was to help determine the environmental safety of disposing of additional nuclear materials in the oceans.

“The navy wanted me to explore those submarines and were interested to know what the nuclear reactors were doing to the environment – but they didn’t want people to know where those submarines were located. So they came to me and I said that I would do the job if they let me look for the Titanic, which they thought would be a great cover story. They were rather concerned when I found the Titanic that it would draw attention to the other mission – but it didn’t”.

His subsequent rise to becoming arguably the world’s most famous modern explorer has sometimes obscured his previous achievements. He says of the 130 expeditions he has made, he is most proud of his 1977 Galapagos Rift project which discovered hydrothermal vents and their exotic ecosystems.

“The reason this was significant was because it completely turned the biology books upside down – it turned the geology books upside down. We made a discovery of a new life system that we did not know existed on our planet, it was not based on the photosynthetic energy of the sun, but was based in the energy of the earth itself through a process we call chemosynthesis.”

The entire expedition is being streamed live by satellite to the internet at following Cyprus, Nautilus will head north to conduct mapping operations in the Southeast Aegean Sea near Bodrum, Turkey.

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