The ocean, his oyster - The New Indian Express

The ocean, his oyster

Published: 11th November 2013 12:00 AM

Last Updated: 10th November 2013 10:23 PM

In the 1970s, David Gallo was a shoe seller. Cut to 2013, Gallo is an acclaimed oceanographer who has worked with the likes of filmmaker James Cameron. “We have just explored five per cent of the ocean,” he rues. Initially wanting to become a scientist, Gallo’s poor marks in school played truant. He made up by enrolling for a two-year geology degree where he “focused extensively on submarine dives” and later got himself a PhD as well. “The tech maps that are present now weren’t available to us way back then. New discoveries are happening every day — new mountain ranges, valleys, etc, are being discovered,” he muses.


Gallo works as director of special projects with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), Boston, USA, which was founded in 1930. “WHOI is not your regular institute. It’s more on the lines of a nonprofit think tank. Our students explore the ocean, waves, sea floor, practical sediments, pollution and indulge extensively in research. The whole course could take about four-five years to complete,” he says. “Of course, it is not an easy course,” he adds inconsequentially.

The institute, on the undergraduate front offers summer student fellowships and guest student programmes. On the graduate programmes, you have a joint oceanography/applied ocean science and engineering programme with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA. Focal areas for this course includes oceanography/applied ocean science and engineering, biological oceanography, chemical oceanography, marine geology and geophysics and physical oceanography, while interdisciplinary focal areas include climate variability and impacts and individualized course of study across two or more disciplines. Applications are now open. Details at


There is also a fellowship programme on geophysical fluid dynamics. The course focuses on mathematical physics, geophysical fluid dynamics and physical sciences. You can also vie for being a postdoctoral fellow at the institute.

The 61-year-old who sees beauty in ruins is also credited as being one of the first oceanographers to use a combination of Russian MIR submarines and robots to map the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean floors and a similar favour to the Mediterranean Sea Floor as well. “Mapping using robots helps; they can use spaces humans can’t. The constant changing of landscape poses a lot of challenges. Like I mentioned earlier, we are not even close to exploring nature. Mountain ranges are 70km long and with thousands of peaks, our ships are still moving at 10km/hr. With respect to oceans, I am with Robert Frost. Miles to go…,” he trails off. Despite the painstaking efforts of oceanographers, Gallo does admit that some meddling has been done with nature and its resources.

On the anvil

On his future plans, there is only one word Gallo breathes, “Go back to the Titanic, there’s a lot still left to be done.” He also offers tips for aspiring photographers. “With respect to exploring the ocean, one always finds there’s never enough time. Find your passion, understand which part of ocean or nature altogether excites you like wells, bacteria, volcanoes, cyclones, etc. Funding and access are huge blocks. Getting hold of ships and robots is no mean task. But it is a fascinating path to traverse. Unearthing something people haven’t seen before is nothing short of a privilege,” he says.


(The writer caught up with the oceanographer at the INK 2013 conference)

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