Ballard, Colbert discuss deep oceans, giant worms

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Famed URI professor holds court on The Colbert Report

KINGSTON, R.I. – February 12, 2009 – Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert chatted with University of Rhode Island professor of Oceanography Robert Ballard on The Colbert Report Wednesday night.

Ballard is the world-renowned oceanographer credited with the discovery of the remains of the Titanic in 1985. Though the Titanic was briefly mentioned, Ballard and Colbert spent more time discussing the ecosystem the oceanographer discovered off the Galapagos Islands. Among the life forms found were 8- to 9-foot tall worms with roughly a pint of “human-like blood” in them. These worms have another creature living inside them that, as Ballard explained, has “figured out how to replicate photosynthesis in the dark from the energy of the Earth instead of the sun.”

Stressing the importance of underwater research, Ballard pointed out that one year of NASA’s budget would support 1,600 years of research for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Why do we fund NASA so well, and the ocean so poorly?” Colbert asked. As he pointed one hand to the sky and one hand to the floor, the comedian continued, “Why are we so interested in that, and not so much this?”

“God is up there, and it’s a bad guy down there,” Ballard said.

“Right, that’s why lobsters are red,” Colbert quipped, drawing laughter from the crowd.

At the end of the interview, Ballard – director of the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography at URI – announced the maiden voyage with the Okeanos Explorer later this year, with the mission to “go where no one has ever gone before on planet Earth.”

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