The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

October 2, 2012

Nobel speaker in deep

Oceanographer describes exploration of wrecks

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ST PETER —

The ocean, he said, contains “big lumps of human history,” from the Titanic to Air France Flight 447, which crashed in the Atlantic Ocean on June 1, 2009.

On the Titanic, he said, there was no communications equipment, so a captain’s order that women and children get the first lifeboat seats was misunderstood as only women and children get lifeboat seats. The richest man on the ship died, he said, after he wasn’t allowed to accompany his wife onto a lifeboat with empty seats.

The ocean also has been a fertile ground for curiosity, given that perhaps 5 percent or 10 percent has been explored, depending on how you define the term.

Gallo was on the team that recovered the flight recorders from the Flight 447 wreckage, which was located using two torpedo-shaped robots.

Piloting the autonomous vehicles doesn’t require much expertise.

“Any kid who can play a video game can drive one of these robots,” Gallo said.

Finding the plane was an emotional moment, given the urge to celebrate the accomplishment.

“At the same time, it’s not a thing to celebrate,” he said. The crash killed each of the 228 passengers.

Emotions are a natural part of science, he said. “We try to make believe science is this non-emotional thing.”

New perspectives

Gallo ended his talk with a quote from the French writer Marcel Proust: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

That can be taken almost literally, given the new equipment being designed by the engineers at Woods Hole, whom Gallo calls the “true heroes” of ocean exploration.

It may also mean thinking differently about what is already visible.

He said people used to think the ocean was too vast to be changeable by people.

“We are changing the chemistry of the ocean.”

And, though he didn’t mention it by name, he suggested it’s time to start seeing climate change differently, given we now know people can change the ocean.

“I don’t know how much more we need to know (before taking action)  ...” he said.

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