Figuring Sea Level Rise bannerFIGURING SEA LEVEL RISE was a year-long initiative from UC Santa Barbara's Carsey-Wolf Center to extend conversations among scholars, students, policy-makers, activists, and broader publics about the projected effects of sea level rise on human and natural systems. Over the next century, rising seas will transform coastlines and coastal zones. The Republic of Maldives and the island nation of Tuvalu are already responding to this predicament, as are indigenous communities in the Arctic and coastal communities in California.

Find the full details of the 2012-2013 conference here.


Project Description

Sea level rise is perceived, understood, and portrayed differently by different groups within the academy, as well as among those who live or work in coastal zones. Indigenous peoples, as stewards of the waterways, have recorded shifting marine currents, weather irregularity, and changing animal migration patterns through inter-generational media such as oral history and ecological knowledge. Ocean scientists calculate possible sea levels based on climate models, and create interactive maps that can allow you to see when your house might become oceanfront property – or even the property of the ocean.

Santa Barbara ocean mapScholars in the social sciences and humanities explore the socio-cultural experiences and landscapes of affected communities and the representation of people, place, and environment in documentary films, entertainment media, news outlets, the web, and literature.  Managers of coastal communities and companies, and those who insure them against risk, deal with probabilities of likely impact from coastal threats.

Figuring Sea Level Rise is a widely collaborative project, engaging faculty from Anthropology, Communication, and Sociology to Art, East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies, English, and Film and Media Studies to Earth Science, Marine Science, Environmental Studies, and Engineering. Through workshops, seminars, a multi-media website, film screenings and a conference we will explore how sea level rise is perceived, understood, and portrayed differently by different groups within the academy, as well as among those who live or work in coastal zones. Our unifying “environmental media” approach will consider how research on the rising oceans is conducted through sophisticated techniques of measuring and modeling and represented or “figured” through various types of media.


Keynote Presentations

Ben Powless is Mohawk from Six Nations in Ontario. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa. He works with the Indigenous Environmental Network, focused on climate justice and resource extraction in Indigenous territories, particularly the tar sands in Canada. In this talk, he discusses sea level rise from the perspective of indigenous youth. 
Michael Williams is from the small village of Akiak on the lower Kuskokwim River in Western Alaska. He is currently the Chief of the Yupiit Nation and Secretary/Treasurer of the Akiak Native Community. Kalei Nu'uhiwa was born and raised on Maui, Hawai'i. She was the first Masters degree graduate of the University of Hawai'i Manoa - Kawaihuelani Center for Hawaiian Language. She has worked with the restoration of the island of Kaho'olawe with both the KIRC and the Protect Kaho'olawe 'Ohana. Roberta Reyes Cordero has been a professional peacemaker since 1987, specializing in cross-cultural, large group, and family mediation. She is currently involved in a special project under the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and NOAA to work with coastal indigenous communities to develop protocols identifying how local knowledge can be interwoven with scientific-based policy to address marine acidification and sea level rise impacts in three Pacific coastal communities. In this talk, they discuss the human dimensions of risks and concerns of indigenous communities. 
Kathryn Yusoff studies aesthetics, social theory and environmental change. Her primary research interest is in the political aesthetics and biopolitics of environments within the context of climate change (past and present) and biodiversity loss. Rear Admiral (ret.) Dr. David Titley has a Master of Science in meteorology and physical oceanography, and a Ph.D. in meteorology from the Naval Postgraduate School, and was elected a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society. For over 30 years, his Navy career included duties as Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy, as director of Task Force Climate Change, and Assistant Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance. In this talk, they discuss how to plan for an uncertain future. 
Dan Kahan is the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology at Yale University. He received his J.D. from Harvard Law School, and served as a law clerk to Justice Thurgood Marshall, of the U.S. Supreme Court (1990-91). His current research involves risk perception, science communication, and the application of decision science to law and policymaking. Paula Apsell oversees the production of NOVA documentaries and miniseries for television. She has extensive experience in public and commercial broadcasting, including children's, medical, and science programming. In this talk, they discuss the challenges of understanding and responding to the risk of sea level rise.