Miniscule Geometrics: The Geopolitical Ecologies of Measuring Fluxes in the Sulfur Cycle

Authors: Afton Clarke-Sather*, University of Minnesota Duluth
Topics: Political Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Global Change
Keywords: Geopolitics, Sulfur, Water, Political Ecology
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 55
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The recent volumetric turn in geopolitics has brought a new focus on understanding the geopolitical imbrications of measuring volumes, such as ice, sand, and water. In contrast to these macro volumes, this paper focuses on the changes in the micro-volumes in the sulfur cycle, measured in parts per million. This paper explores the geometrics of the sulfur cycle through two case studies of measurement and sulfur pollution. First, this considers the discovery of transboundary acid rain. Second, it considers the geopolitical implications of measuring the impact of sulfate pollution on wild rice in Minnesota. Wild rice harvest for members of Ojibwe tribes is protected by treaty rights, and understanding the relationship between sulfate runoff and wild rice is critical to understanding treaty right. In both of these cases, small changes in volumes of sulfur in the atmosphere or water bodies have significant environmental impacts and geopolitical implications. These cases draw attention to the importance of measuring biogeochemical fluxes—movements of elements between environmental states—in understanding the geopolitics of volumes. Fluxes of sulfur from lithic sources into hydrological and atmospheric, whether through mining run-off or burning coal, require new ways of understanding volumetric geopolitics.

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