When a foreign government in the middle of a tense international conflict needs help on short notice locating military equipment at the bottom of the sea, who do they turn to? URI Oceanography Professor Robert Ballard and his Corps of Exploration, of course.
Ballard’s international team of scientists, engineers, students and educators, was preparing to depart from Istanbul aboard their ship E/V Nautilus for a scientific mission to the Black Sea and the eastern Mediterranean last month, when a Turkish military jet was shot down by Syrian anti-aircraft defenses. The Turkish government asked for Ballard’s assistance in finding the jet and recovering the bodies of the pilots. With the approval of the U.S. State Department, Ballard – along with Assistant Professor Chris Roman, 2011 ocean engineering alumnus Mike Filimon, oceanography alumni Katy Croff Bell and Mike Brennan, and their colleagues – went to work. Within a few days of arriving on site, the team found the wreckage and the pilots were returned to Turkey.
This effort was possible thanks in large part to the training and experience the scientists received at URI and the state-of-the-art technologies they had at their disposal to search the deep-sea, including remotely operated vehicles and sidescan sonar capabilities. E/V Nautilus is tied directly to the Inner Space Center at the Bay Campus through telepresence, which allows live audio and video of the ship’s explorations to be viewed by the general public ashore in real-time via www.nautiluslive.org.
The Turkish ambassador, who was aboard throughout the operation, was so impressed with the recovery effort, he offered to purchase the ship and all of the equipment aboard for his country’s future military operations. “I told him that it’s not the ship and the technology that he needs,” said Ballard. “He needs the expertise of our scientists, most of whom earned degrees from the Graduate School of Oceanography.”
That conversation has already led to discussions about enrolling Turkish students at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography so that next time Turkish officials and scientists wish to search the seafloor, they’ll be capable of conducting their own operations.