Ocean explorer Robert Ballard, who is responsible for the discovery of the Titanic shipwreck, says he may have discovered evidence of the Great Flood described in the Book of Genesis.
Ballard is now on a mission to find evidence that the "mother of all floods" actually occurred, he told Christiane Amanpour of ABC News.
"We went in there to look for the flood," he told ABC News. "Not just a slow moving, advancing rise of sea level, but a really big flood that then stayed... The land that went under stayed under."
The explorer's mission was prompted by research conducted by Columbia University marine geologists William B.F. Ryan and Walter C. Pitman III. These men theorized that climate change during a glacial period caused the icecaps to melt, an article from The Earth Institute at Columbia University states, which led to widespread flooding.
Ryan and Pitman suggest the Bosporus strait, which served as a natural dam between the Mediterranean and Black seas, broke open at that time and caused salt water to flood the Black Sea with a force 200 times stronger than that of Niagara Falls. With the waters rising at the rate of about six inches per day, the flooding could have covered 60,000 square miles in less than a year, they theorize, causing humans to migrate away from the area and at the same time inspiring the stories of Gilgamesh and Noah's ark. Ryan and Pitman's theory can be found in their 1999 book, Noah's Flood: The New Scientific Discoveries About The Event That Changed History.
After deciding to explore this theory themselves, Ballard's team found an ancient shoreline 400 feet below the surface, which suggests a flood catastrophe did occur there. After carbon dating shells from the shoreline, Ballard estimated the event occurred about 5,000 BC – around the time some believe the flood described in Genesis occurred.
Although natural evidence has given him confidence in his research, Ballard is also looking for more evidence of the civilizations that were affected by the disaster.
"We started finding structures that looked like they were man-made structures," Ballard said. "That's where we are focusing our attention right now."
His team has found ancient pottery in the area, as well as a shipwreck and partial human remains which he says are from around 500 BC. Although the shipwreck is too recent to have been caused by the flood, it gives him hope he will find something older, he says.
The Bible says God caused the Great Flood because the human race had become corrupt. He forewarned a righteous man, Noah, about the disaster and commissioned him to build an ark, which he would use to rescue his family members as well as a male and female pair of each living creature so they could repopulate the earth once the waters had receded.
The flood occurred after the "fountains of the great deep burst forth" and "the windows of the heavens were opened," and it rained for forty days and nights, the Genesis account states. Eventually, as it subsided, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.
Ballard says he doesn't expect to find Noah's famous vessel during his exploration, though he hopes to find remnants of the people and places that existed at the time of the event.
"It's foolish to think you will ever find a ship," he said. "But can you find people who were living? Can you find their villages that are underwater now? And the answer is yes."
Georgia Perdum, research scientist and speaker for Answers In Genesis, says despite Ryan and Pitman's treatment of Noah's story as a myth, she and other Christians could interpret the newly found evidence differently.
"I think any research where they're going to be looking for evidence of a catastrophic flood is always something that we're interested in," Perdum told The Christian Post on Tuesday. "Obviously we have different ideas about what that means: We would say, from a biblical standpoint, that would be potentially evidence of the Noachian flood."
Ballard and his team plan to return to Turkey in the summer of 2013.