The Science of Aquaman: Understanding Dead Water

Update: legendary oceanographer Dr. Kim Martini stops by to set the record straight on the challenging subject of internal waves. Her comments in bold. 

It has been a long time since I’ve made an entry into our long-running, world-famous, Science of Aquaman series. The last few runs have been heavy on high adventure, but light on ocean tidbits for me to nerd out on. I don’t like to force ocean fact into comic fiction unless the opportunity presents itself.

So, with the newest run of Aquaman, starting with issue #50, focusing around a villain named Dead Water, I thought it was the perfect moment to talk about some physical oceanography. And then…

Dead Water. From Aquaman #51.

Dead Water. From Aquaman #51.

My hat’s off to Dan Abnett, who beat me to the science punchline. If I had to explain the phenomenon of dead water in a single tweet, it would have been pretty close to this. Well played, sir. Well played.

So what is dead water and why does it make maneuvering a vessel so challenging?

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The incredible biodiversity of Aquaman: the grand finale

Aquaman #31 variant cover. Art by Mike Allred.

Aquaman #31 variant cover. Art by Mike Allred.

We’ve traveled far, this last week. From gentle basking sharks gliding across the surface of the North Sea to titanically tiny worms dwelling in the deep. The variant cover for Aquaman #31 is a fantastically diverse sampling of real ocean organisms, many of them not only profoundly weird but also almost entirely unstudied. Mike Allred’s is a small taste of the unknown still waiting to be explored.

I saved the best for last, including my favorite squid and scale worm. Before we dive into these final identifications, let’s take a moment to review.

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The penultimate installment of the incredible biodiversity of Aquaman’s variant cover

aquapurged5We are approaching the home stretch, with the second to last installment of our tour through this amazing Aquaman cover. Have you been following along? How many have you guessed so far?

If you haven’t been following along, you can catch up with the previous installments, below:

13. Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti)

429px-Hippocampus_bargibanti3

Pygmy Seahorse. Photo by Jens Petersen.

seahorseI started my career in marine science working with seahorses, so these goofy, thoroughly un-fish-like fish, hold a special place in my heart. All seahorses are pretty weird, but pygmy seahorses might be the weirdest. These tiny animals, barely 2 centimeters long, live exclusively on gorgonian corals, their lump profile allows them to blend perfectly into the backdrop. Their bulbous protrusions will assume the color of their host coral.

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The incredible biodiversity of Aquaman’s variant cover: Part four of a six part trilogy.

aquapurged4Welcome to day four of our delightful tour through the weird, wonderful creatures on Michael Allred’s incredible Aquaman cover. It’s all fish today!

Since we’re at the halfway point, now seems like a good time to reflect on why this cover matters so much. I’ve been a fan of Aquaman for a long time, and for all the amazing visuals in the latest iteration of our Atlantean hero, the deep sea remains noticeably underrepresented. Comic books mirror life and it is rare to see deep-sea creatures feature in art, let alone popular art. To have so many deep-sea organisms featured prominently on a piece of genre-crossing pop art is a rare and welcome opportunity to share my love for fangtooths, vampire squid, vent worms, monkfish, fringeheads, and isopods with a new and diverse audience.

Downward with the bestiary of barotollerant glory!

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