Katy Croff Bell

Archaeological Oceanographer

Emerging Explorer

Common Mussels covering You Xiu Wreck, Mytilus edulis, Constanta, Black Sea, Romania

Photograph by Wolfgang Poelzer, WaterFrame/Getty Images

Photograph: Katy Croff

Photograph by Todd Gregory

Dr. Katy Croff Bell is an ocean explorer, using deep-sea technology to explore what lies at the depths of the ocean. Over the past 12 years, she has participated in or led more than 25 oceanographic and archaeological projects.

Bell’s current work involves the utilization of telepresence technology on ocean exploration projects for remote science and education. She is chief scientist of the Nautilus Exploration Program, working with a large team to implement this technology on multidisciplinary expeditions to the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea, and Atlantic Ocean. The expedition is shared with the world live, revealing the wonders of the undersea world in real time, in an effort to engage and inspire a new generation of young explorers.

Days in the field are intense. Weeks or months aboard research ships are marked by close quarters, unpredictable sea conditions, and an ever ticking clock. "Ship time costs thousands of dollars a day, so every second counts," Bell says. "We work in shifts to collect data 24 hours a day, but even when you are 'off,' there's much to do. We typically work day and night with very little sleep."

In 1999 Bell joined a research expedition led by Robert Ballard to the Black Sea. Approximately 7,000 years ago there was a rise in sea level of about 500 to 660 feet. "We surveyed this depth range to see if an ancient coastline and submerged habitation sites could be found," she says.

The team was also interested in these waters because oceanographic data had revealed a lack of dissolved oxygen needed to support marine plants and animals below depths of about 500 feet. The absence of those organisms, which eat organic material including ship's wood, improved chances of finding extremely well-preserved wrecks or other organic artifacts.

That knowledge, along with a comprehensive map Bell's survey team produced, helped locate four shipwrecks, each approximately 1,500 years old.

Since that time, Bell has worked very closely with Dr. Ballard and is now vice president of the Ocean Exploration Trust directing the E/V Nautilus Exploration Program.

Bell received her S.B. from MIT in Ocean Engineering in 2000. In 2001, she was a John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellow in the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration, after which she completed her master's degree in Maritime Archaeology at the University of Southampton. In 2006, she was named a National Geographic emerging explorer. Bell completed her Ph.D. in Geological Oceanography at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography in 2011.


  • MuralItem_0001_KS.jpg

    Nat Geo E-Team

    What are Katy Croff Bell and the rest of the National Geographic Explorers up to? Meet the E-Team and learn about their projects in this interactive mural.

In Their Words

I use tools, techniques, and research from oceanography, as well as from my background in geology, to help archaeologists make discoveries.

—Katy Croff Bell


  • Photo: Submarine comes upon shipwreck

    Nautilus Live

    Descend into the unknown. Follow Dr. Robert Ballard and his team as they explore the ocean on the E/V Nautilus.


Listen to Katy Croff Bell

Hear an interview with Croff on National Geographic Weekend.

  • 00:06:00 Katy Croff

    From ancient wine to ancient life, National Geographic Emerging Explorer Katy Croff has been a part of many types of undersea exploration. Bell joins Boyd in the studio to talk about her team’s discoveries in the ocean depths, from lost shipwrecks to life where life should not exist.

Our Explorers in Action

See Photos »

Meet All Our Explorers

  • NationalGeographic_1289095-flag.jpg

    Explorers A-Z

    At the heart of our explorers program is the quest for knowledge through exploration and the people who make it possible.

  • Photo: Michael Lombardi diving

    Explorers by Category

    Browse our different areas of exploration and discover the fascinating people behind the projects.