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The out-of-place ocean: Maps, floods, and representing climate change on dynamic shores.

Authors: Sasha Davis*, Keene State College, Bryanna Weigel, Keene State College
Topics: Marine and Coastal Resources, Pacific Islands, Geographic Theory
Keywords: sea level rise, climate change, coastal hazards, wet ontology, Marshall Islands
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Photographic and cartographic representations of coastal flooding have become common symbols for the dangers of climate change and the associated rise in sea level. Whether it is photos of inundation, videos of waves rushing into normally dry spaces, or maps showing future coastlines resulting from hypothetical warming scenarios; visions of the ocean 'out-of-place' have become icons of impending climate disaster. While we recognize the real threats posed by climate change – and the danger that sea level rise poses to coastal communities – we employ Kimberley Peters and Philip Steinberg's concepts of 'wet ontologies' and 'ocean in excess' to analyze the dynamism of the land-sea interface in order to challenge the idea that visual representations of inundation are the best way to demonstrate a causal link between long-term climate trends and place-specific vulnerability. To make this point, we analyze the dynamic history of the shoreline environment on Majuro Atoll in the Marshall Islands from multiple perspectives. Through an examination of documented incidents of flooding over the past 40 years (caused by ENSO cycles, typhoons, and other irregular events), studies of changes in the terrestrial landscape (caused by erosion, human alteration, and biogenic sediment deposition), interviews, and an analysis of the recent production of a one-meter topobathymetric digital elevation model of the atoll; we argue that static characterizations leave important human experiences 'off the map' as well as misrepresent both the 'baseline' conditions against which climate change threats are judged, as well as the specific local geographies of human vulnerability.

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