Seeking Geographies of Ocean Space, O&D UA 2015.

2015 Sammler, K. Knowing the Abyss: Seeking Geographies of Ocean Space. Oceans and Deserts: Charting Transdisciplinary Currents in Environment and Culture within the Arts and Sciences, Tucson, AZ 6–7 Mar.


The vast and deep ocean floor has often been compared to a desert landscape; imagined bereft of flora and fauna, as vacant stretches of sand and rock. More recent and nuanced investigations find these ‘voids’ are actually spaces of unique and biodiverse ecological communities. Increased understanding of seamounts, hydrothermal vents, and benthic zones have revealed not only a variety of marine life, but also a multitude of rare metals and minerals. While only a small percentage of the seafloor has been explored in any detail, marine surveys are mapping and sampling benthic resources for extraction. The opening up of these spaces requires definitive delimitations of territorial boundaries, expensive geodetic and bathymetric data collection, and precision speculative calculations of profitability. At the national level island nations, such as New Zealand, have introduced new legislation and management schemes to promote mining within their marine territories, known as Exclusive Economic Zones, granted by the UN Law of the Sea. Given the extreme cost of knowing the abyss, companies vying for permits to mine New Zealand’s seabed are bankrolling the data collection, provoking concerns regarding the knowledges produced. One example environmental economist Linwood Pendleton points out, we “need to know about places that don’t have minerals, not just the places that do, to determine the relative ecological importance” (2014). This paper will investigate how law, science, technology and economics combine to produce distinct knowledges of the deep sea, how the “language of geometry, calculation, and economy maps onto the geographies they seek” (Elden 2013).