The politics of sea level rise – March 5th

Kate Sammler, Cal State Maritime
Moss Landing Marine Labs Seminar Series - March 5th, 2020

Hosted by The Geological Oceanography Lab

MLML Seminar Room, 4pm

Open to the public

Sea level rise has destructive material impacts on coastal communities and low-lying nations. While it is largely perceived and experienced via these impacts, the level of the sea is less often thought about as a political surface. The boundary where land and sea intersect is determined by the ocean’s height, manifesting materially as a realm of coastal features and produced politically as baselines. Defined through international treaties, baselines are the low-water line upon which national boundaries are traced. Yet, this line between adjoining mediums of land and sea is much more physically blurred and dynamic than represented politically and legally. The difficulties of delimiting a coastline, a phenomenon referred to as the Coastline Paradox, means the measurement of a coastline is dependent on the ruler used, an entanglement of instrument and measurement. As rising sea levels encroach on physical coastlines, they are also impacting legal baselines, shifting national terrestrial and maritime borders inland posing existential dilemmas to island and low-lying nations. This paper examines how the concept of sea level was constructed scientifically and is enrolled in the legal demarcation of territorial borders, with the goal of examining how sea level rise politically marks a climatically changing world.



Dr. Katherine Sammler is trained as a geographer, with a background in atmospheric science and physics. She is currently an assistant professor at California State University Maritime in the department of Global Studies & Maritime Affairs. She conducts research at the intersection of science and politics in the realm of oceans, atmospheres, and outer space. In all areas, her work considers the role of knowledge, law, and power in defining global commons, access, and environmental justice. She has recently published on the politics of seabed mining and indigenous rights in New Zealand, and public versus private rights to offplanet resources at the Spaceport America launch site in New Mexico. She is currently conducting research on astronomy and space infrastructure in Hawaii in relation to settler colonial observation and occupation.

Kate Sammler Presents: The Politics of Sea Level Rise