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Oceanic x/y/z: seabed mapping and the surface/depth relation

Authors: Nicholas Anderman*, University of California - Berkeley
Topics: Oceanography, Cultural Geography, Environmental Perception
Keywords: depth, ocean, oceanic, ships, shipping, geophilosophy, epistemology
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The UN-sponsored initiative Seabed 2030, which aims to map the global ocean floor at a higher resolution than ever before, is the single most ambitious seabed mapping project ever undertaken. It will almost certainly fail, for reasons I outline. Nonetheless, Seabed 2030 serves as a useful jumping-off point to speculate on the conceptual relation between the ocean surface, the sub-surface water column, and the ocean floor, i.e. the depths. Beginning with nineteenth-century oceanographic theories that associate vertical movement downwards with traveling backwards in time, I sketch out, in a necessarily abbreviated form, a material-conceptual history of oceanic depth. Generally, vertical knowledge structures call to mind “time rather than space” and deal with the "disclosure of essence, the sui generis of any entity, thing, or idea” (Shalem 2017: 56). With reference to this conceptual work, but arguing against a totalizing metaphysics, I ask after the politics of depth in the context of Seabed 2030 in particular, and the deep ocean in general.

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