“The Underwater Web: Cabling the Seas” – Smithsonian Library Exhibition

April 21, 2008

In 2001, the Smithsonian Institution sponsored an exhibit on undersea cables, tracing the history of international communications from 1851. At first, these cables carried telegraph messages, subsequently telephone traffic, and now internet data. The subtitle of the exhibition, “How the Old Become New and Other Seeming Contradictions” refers to the “rebirth” of undersea cabling in the form of fiber-optic cables. Now these cables, still predominantly hidden and disregarded in a “wireless age” despite the fact that they channel much of the international communications traffic.

The online version of the exhibition gives an excellent history of the establishment of these cable lines, their inventors, and the technologies that support underwater communication. What is the relationship between underwater media and media in the air? There seems to be an interesting dynamic between the two.

A site of undersea cable maps

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Aquaman: Comics, Cartoon, TV

April 21, 2008

Aquaman is a DC comics superhero who debuted in More Fun Comics in 1941. He subsequently became the star of his own comic books series (Volume 1: 1962-1971, 1977-78; Volume 2: 1991-1992, Volume 3: 1994-2001; Volume 4: 2003-2007). Other spin-offs include animated cartoon show Aquaman (1967-1970) and a 2006 pilot for a TV show (trailer below).

Aquaman parallels Superman and other flying superheroes: while they dominate the skies, defying gravity, he speeds through the ocean. Often his enemies are ocean-related villains that threaten aquatic life: shipping, sailors, etc..


Underwater Forensics: Coral Reef CSI

April 18, 2008

There is an emerging field of underwater forensics and investigation. It stretches from the more traditional underwater investigation of sunken ships, to the retrieval of bodies and evidence from lakes and rivers, to (most recently) the investigation of coral reefs. A series of workshops (called Coral Reef CSI) have been established to train marine biology invetigations (among a variety of other people) in techniques of crime scene investigation. The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) has established a Committee on Coral Reef Enforcement in order to develop protocols for this practice.

What is interesting about this practice, in terms of underwater media, is that evidence can never really be seen in itself. It’s collected by divers who have to look through goggles, through water, with the help from an extensive technical apparatus. They can only stay underwater for an hour and often (in the case of reefs) have to be careful not to further damage the living object they are examining. In this way it parallels a medical examination.

In addition, water is a medium itself – sometimes it washes away critical pieces and at other times works to preserve the objects/bodies/incidents.

Some links:

ICRAN (International Coral Reef Action Network) page on Coral Reef CSI
ICRI (International Coral Reef Initiative).

Also, FYI, 2008 is International Year of the Reef.


Battle for the Coral Reefs

April 9, 2008

Battle for the Coral Reefs” is a version of the classic shooter game adapted for underwater environments. The initial description reads:

“Our scene begins three years following the great arctic devastation. With eighty percent of the planet underwater, humanity’s only hope is to help heal what is remaining. Clear the ocean of waste, and bring back the amazing coral reefs.”

Trapped in a post-apocalyptic underwater future , you swirl around in a fish-inspired space ship shooting trash. When you level up, parts of the coral reef grow back. The controls and dynamic are limited and aren’t really adapted for an underwater setting.

“Battle for the Coral Reefs” is a politically oriented newsgame that uses the coral reef crisis as a stimulus for the game’s narrative. Beyond this, it doesn’t really engage the underwater space or the environmental issues.


Conserve Our Ocean Legacy: Ocean Survivor Game

April 6, 2008

This video game is part of the Conserve Our Ocean Legacy campaign to end overfishing. You are a fish and must escape various types of fishing (trawlers, hook and line, etc). When you are caught, the game displays information about the type of fishing that caught you.

You naturally sink in this game and your only control is to swim upward (and jump out of the water). This parallels the goal of the game, which is simply to stay alive (but you eventually die. The effect of the game, like many other political newsgames, is to basically demonstrate the futility of trying to win (for a fish) and potentially effect frustration in the player which can then be channeled towards change.


RealFlow 3d animation software

April 5, 2008

RealFlow is a fluid and dynamics simulation tool for 3d animation and the standard environment for animating water. Many of the case studies on the RealFlow site show samples of moving liquids (more compelling graphically) but it can also be used to simulate underwater spaces. The the program is particle based: physical properties control the particles’ behaviors and their interaction with each other, as well as extraneous impulses, forces and accelerations. It can also calculate buoyancy of objects and simulate their motion in water. It seems that the transition to particle based animation environments (versus layer based or object based) allows for new types of simulations of environmental conditions, and thus new modes of underwater mediation.

RealFlow has been used for animation in a variety of feature films, including Poseidon. In 2007, the creators of RealFlow were awarded the Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.


fresh2o Photographic Campaign by Candice

April 1, 2008

Candice, a pioneer in underwater fashion photography, has produced a series of underwater images of celebrities (e.g. Keira Knightley, below) in order to highlight the lack of clean water in many developing countries. (campaign website)

keira knightly underwater