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Can Aquaman Drown?

Though all life on Earthlikely began in the oceans, we as human things know that our domain is not underneath the waves. Only a humanoid hero likeAquaman can survive everything that the seas have tothrow at us, or can he? Can Aquaman drown? Let's get technical. (sucks in air)(grunts) (upbeat music) Being happy Atlantean,Arthur Curry or Aquaman has the physiology, canonically speaking, to thrive both insideand outside of water. So asking a question like, can he drown? Will depend entirely onour definitions of drowning and his physiology.

 I know that this question sounds like it has anobvious answer to it, but this analysis turns out tobe surprisingly complicated. so let's start with the basics. How does Aquaman breathe underwater? (water bubbling) I'm a shark. Whether in water or in air, breathing fundamentallycomes down to one process gas exchange. All particles in the universelike atoms and molecules, if they have any temperature at all, they are necessarily bouncing around and wiggling all over the place. And as they do this insome volume, for instance, they bump into each otherand against the volume and they tend, overtime, to move into spaces with less particles in them.

This tendency is calledmolecular diffusion and it makes breathing possible. In breathing things, such as we, biology has evolved to take advantage of this passive movement of particles from one place to another,it requires no energy. For example, when we breathein, (breathing deeply) in that air there ismore oxygen in the air than in our bodies tissues, in our lungs. And so some of that oxygen goes across and through those tissuesand into our bloodstream, and the opposite happenswith carbon dioxide. And if you looked inside our lungs the basic structure would be like this, it wouldn't be just a flat interface, it would be a lot of small pockets that would increase surfacearea available to the air to enhance molecular diffusion.

And in gills, like in fish, you would see just the opposite. With those structures andthat increased surface area, in direct contact with thewater for the same reason. But breathing withwater changes a lot more than just this basic shape. Hip! (water splashing)(bird squawks) I landed on a bird. When his superpowersaren't just glossed over, it sometimes mentioned that Aquaman breathes underwater using gills. Hello fish friend, aidus on our learning quest. If we looked inside our fishfriends mouth and head here, we would find rows androws on the outside edges of what are called gill filaments, and these are just sectionsof very, very thin tissue with a lot of blood running through them, positioned such that, as thefish moves through the water or opens its mouth, water comes into direct contact with them.

And if we looked even morecloser at these gill filaments we would see that yes, they are in direct contact with water, but the blood flowingthrough these filaments is actually flowing inthe opposite direction that the water is flowing. At least in Chad the shad here. (laughs) Okay. This counter current flow evolved because of efficiency. Let's say we had someconcentration of oxygen dissolved into the water. Let's say it starts at100 and it ends in five, after it passes the gill filaments. As long as these two flowsare counter to each other, there will always be a gradient that helps molecular diffusion. If the deoxygenatedblood comes into contact with the more deoxygenated water, rather than the other way around, because that would nothave as good of a gradient and you wouldn't be able tobreathe underwater as well.

And that is importantbecause relatively speaking getting oxygen out of water is kinda hard. (water bubbling)(water splashing) Woo, my man. Here I have two, one liter cubes filled with both water and air. In the probably regular air, that you're probablyregularly breathing right now, there is around 210 millilitersper liter of oxygen in it. In one liter of fresh water though, there are only eight milliliters of dissolved oxygen available to a fish. This is in part why gillsevolved to be so dang efficient. Not only is there less oxygenavailable to a fish in water compared to air. Water is obviously a lot more dense and a lot more viscous than air, making it harder to move physically past structures like gills. We breathe via molecular diffusion too, but our lungs didn't haveto evolve to be so efficient because there's so much more oxygen in the air that we breath.

If fish and their gills are so good at getting oxygen out of water though, you might be asking, what's stopping themfrom breathing on land? (bird squawks) Geez, I'm sorry Garry. I didn't look look where I was jumping. What will determine this DC drowning all comes down to Aquaman'sform and function. (laughs) Water isn't justimportant for fish either. Every single breath youtake (breathing deeply) is first warmed and humidified, more water is added toit before any oxygen makes it into your bloodstream. And we have a consistent,thin, liquid layer covering all of our lungtissue, at all times. All of this is to saythat dry breathy bits are bad for living, and this is a big reasonwhy fish out of water have a hard time staying alive.

But what the simple demonstration I can show you the biggest reason. The biggest reason whyfish suffocate out of water is because of what happens to their gills when you take gills out of water. So to demonstrate this wehave a science tube here filled with fresh water and here is our representation of gills. It has just torn up tissue paper because gill tissue is very thin, there's a lot of gillfilaments and as you can see, they present a lot ofsurface area to the water. And if we submerge this tissuepaper in our water here, just like a fish's gills, you can see that everything spreads out, exposing all that criticalsurface area to the water. The waters density and viscosityhelps keep everything apart and the fish is breathing just fine here.

But now watch what happenswhen I take our paper out of the water just liketaking a fish's gills, and the fish itself, out of the water. You can see that insteadof staying spread out, everything clumps together. Weighed down by the waterand without any buoyancy our gills stick together and look at the differencein the surface area here. Instead of having many, manydifferent channels available for molecular diffusion, you have basically justtwo sides a huge decrease. This is what happens to a fish when you pull it out of water, all of its gills stick togetherwhich dramatically reduces its ability to take oxygenout of the environment.

This is biggest reasonwhy your typical fish will not survive very long when on land. In terms of gas transfer, this is like asking someone to breathe after putting a hand over their mouth. And this is such a simple andunderstandable demonstration of this fact, that Iwish I would have gotten my feet wet more often withthese kinds of questions when I was kid. It's an idiom. (sighs) Of course notall aquatic organisms have such a hard time with living on land or with dry gills. The mudskipper, for example, can absorb up to a halfthe oxygen it needs directly through its skin. And many species of catfishcan just straight-up gulp air and absorb oxygen in their guts, and then they just fart out the rest. Given the diversity ofrespiratory solutions in the animal kingdom, and who knows how Aquamanbreathes from comic to comic, whether or not Aquaman candrown is now gonna to depend on our definition of drowning.(Aquaman grunting) Not not that kind of definition dude.- My man. - Merriam Webster's dictionarydefines two drown as suffocation via submersionespecially in water.

Suffocation of course meaninga deadly lack of oxygen. Given this specific definition is there a way to drownAquaman? (chuckles) If Aquaman used gillslike your typical fish, there is a way for him to suffocate via submersion in water, and that way has everything to do withwhat's called dissolved oxygen. We've already talked abouthow oxygen can dissolve into water in specificconcentrations as a gas, but that concentration can change. For example, if you wantedto populate a fish tank with a lot of fish, you would need to increasethe amount of dissolved oxygen in the water with somethinglike your standard bubbler. But you can also decrease theamount of dissolved oxygen, in the water, by adding more fish or by adding more thingsthat require oxygen to break them down, stufflike organic pollution. When a lot of new organic material or chemical pollutionenters an aquatic ecosystem, microbes like algae rush to eat it, using oxygen as they do so.

And if the pollution is bad enough there is enough algae thatthe dissolved oxygen goes down so much there can be literallyno oxygen in the water left for anything to breathe. Chad. Chad. No! (water splashing) Depleting the world's oceans of oxygen sounds like a super villainplot you'd find in a comic book, except we're doing it right now. Thanks to organic pollutionand chemical runoff, from agriculture, into the sea, for years now there hasbeen a massive dead zone, in the United States,the size of New Jersey, in the Gulf of Mexico. The dissolved oxygen, here,in this water is so low that almost nothing can live there, aside from the algae that created this situation, thanks to us. It could be incrediblyimpactful to the environment and it is and dead zones happen like this all over the world, and if Aquaman really existed, he would be really angry about this.

But appalling oceanpollution aside for a second, if you threw a fish intodead zone like water it would suffocate viasubmersion in water, it would drown. (metal clanks)(waves crashing) The last variable here is of course how Aquaman actually breathes. But whether he is absorbingo2 through his skin or using gills or he needs to occasionally return to the surface to gulp some air, there should be a way he can drown. If Aquaman used gillslike your typical fish, a super villain couldsimply create a dead zone in all of the oceans orin his Atlantean home, that would lead to lethallevels of dissolved oxygen. Or if he gulped air from the surface, you could simply denyAquaman access to the surface and he would eventuallydrown in the water. This actually happens tofish that we know about, like the betta fish orSiamese fighting fish. And if he absorbed o2 through his skin you could just do a combination of both. Aquaman can drown.

Hey, get up, you can't be dead, you have to save the DC EU with money. So can Aquaman drown? Well sounds like asilly question at first, but once you know how fish actually breath and how they depend on oxygen, just as much as we do, you can think of situations where, if nothing magical is going on, yes, Aquaman could drown. He may be the king of the seven seas, but he's still subject to almighty o2. Just like you, just likeme and just like Gary. Because science. Don't you have like a parkinglot to be annoying in? (upbeat music) As a child I do not think you have a fundamental understandingof what dissolved oxygen is, why would you have one? And so that's why your goldfish died. That's why my goldfish died.

You assume that the water iswhat allows the fish to live, but you don't realize thatthere's dissolved oxygen as a resource, a finiteresource in that water. And so if you just keep afish in just a small bag or just a small bowl, where oxygen is entering thewater from the atmosphere but not enough, there won'tbe enough oxygen in the water and the fish will suffocateor drown, by our definition, in that water. So that's why your goldfish died and that's why you need a bubbler. That's why I was a sadboy at the county fair. Thank you so much for watching Aaron.

If you like this video youmight like some of our other sciencey Aquamany videos that we've done. Like how he swimssupersonically through water and how his body, ripped though it may be, survives the sea. And if you wanna give ussuggestions for future episodes, one of you suggested this episode, you can follow us here atthese social media handles. And hey, (laughs) all right. 'Kay, my man. Can dig it. Like a bet. (laughs) Shave my beard. Who knows. Khal Drogo (upbeat electronic music) 


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