Meet pioneering American oceanographer David Gallo — the man who has made the ocean floor his second home.
Pioneering American oceanographer David Gallo has been actively involved in ocean exploration for a quarter of a century. One of the first scientists to use robots and submarines to explore the deep seafloor, Gallo co-led an expedition to create the first comprehensive map of the RMS Titanic, was part of the international effort to locate the remains of Air France Flight 447, and the sunken German battleship Bismarck. He is working next on locating the wreckage of Ernest Shackleton’s ship HMS Endurance. Excerpts from an interview during Gallo’s recent visit to Kochi.
Tell us a bit about your Titanic expedition.
Our mission was to make a detailed map of the Titanic. The ship is getting old, rusty, and there are still many things inside and outside the ship. Now, do we leave them there, let time take its course, or do we protect them in a museum so that we remember the ship? These are questions for scientists like me. We made a map, the most detailed one of the sea floor ever created. This was not the first time the Titanic wreck had been mapped, but we used better cameras, better robots. We clubbed acoustic sonar mosaics and optical mosaics to create the first real, bird’s eye view of the Titanic site. We can now understand the Titanic better and tell new stories about it.
What does the Titanic mean to you?
It is hard for me to keep the Titanic out of my life. There are hundreds and thousands of things sitting in that wreck at the bottom of the sea. It is very moving. As a scientist we say we are not emotional but when you go down to the bottom of the ocean and see a baby doll, or something personal like a hat, gloves or a piece of jewellery you cannot help turning emotional wondering who owned all that. So, to me it has now become a learning process; there is so much to learn from the Titanic. It has been more than 100 years since the ship sank and I think we have just begun to tell the Titanic story.
What challenges do our oceans face today?
Oceans are changing faster than we can understand them. We kill sharks, hundred millions of them, so that we can have shark fin soup. If you decide all this is okay, go ahead. But be ready to face the consequences. We can’t keep doing the things we are doing. The changes are significant; very soon we’ll have no sharks, fish stocks have dwindled, the storms are changing, rain patterns have changed, the world around us is changing.
Are the authorities listening?
No, of course not (laughs). Part of the problem is that scientists don’t speak out; we are taught to just do our work and publish it. We make hypotheses, and others tear it down. But we do have the responsibility to tell people what we have observed so that people can understand. It is like a painting; every scientist carries a brush and makes a stroke so that people can see... every time a picture emerges. We need to keep adding those brush strokes.
What are you working on next?
We may go back to the Titanic to complete some work; then there is Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance that got stuck in the Antarctic ice for more than a year and everyone survived! We would like to find this ship; learn how to work in the Antarctic ice, around it, beneath it. And we will have with us Hanumant Singh, one of the most creative engineers and ocean explorers I have known for a long time. One of his specialisations is working under ice and he has done some amazing work.