Geography 2050
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GEOGRAPHY 2050

The Future of the World Ocean

November 19-20, 2020 | Columbia University | NYC

An Event by the American Geographical Society

THE FUTURE OF THE WORLD OCEAN

Geography 2050 is a multi-year, strategic dialog about the vital trends reshaping the geography of our planet in the coming decades. Initially organized by the American Geographical Society (AGS) in 2014, the ongoing Geography 2050 dialogue convenes thought leaders from academia, government, industry, and the social sector to facilitate discussion of the major forces that will shape our planet’s future. The premise of this symposium is that the fate of our planet is linked to the fate of our oceans. The human imprint upon oceans began modestly with limited negative impacts upon marine ecosystems. Fishermen, traders, sailors, and explorers used the oceans to connect our planet, to control new territories and to extract vital resources. The oceans today are inspirations of human culture, engines of economic growth and trade, theaters of geostrategic maneuvering, wildernesses to explore, and sites of ecological exploitation, pollution and dumping. The vital trends that will reshape Earth in the coming decades will have a profound impact on our oceans. In fact, with sea level rise, the future boundaries between terrestrial and maritime areas will be in flux. Geography 2050: Future of the World Ocean focuses attention on the life that oceans contain, humanity’s growing reliance upon ocean resources and maritime networks, and how ecological degradation of oceans impact the terrestrial earth and all its inhabitants.

Human use of the oceans is slated to expand with the warming of the Arctic, a growing reliance on oceanic shipping lanes, expanded offshore energy and mineral exploitation, greater dumping of waste, and increasing illegal undocumented and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Along with the damage that comes with human activity there is opportunity; we have access to unprecedented stores of data from distributed in-situ and remote sensing networks, which when combined with the latest advances in geospatial science provide insight into ways to address many of the challenges facing the oceans today. Still, human action has foisted an unbelievable ecological burden on the oceans including ocean warming, ocean acidification, sea ice loss, sea level rise, mangrove degradation, coral reef loss, ocean plastics, noise pollution, and invasive species transported to vulnerable ecosystems all over the planet.

Considering the Future of the World Ocean is a multi-scalar effort, requiring local, national and multilateral approaches. This interdisciplinary symposium seeks to advance our understanding of oceans as critical to human livelihood and the overall sustainability of the planet. Join us in this seventh installment of the Geography2050 multi-year strategic dialog as we discuss the issues facing 70 percent of the Earth’s surface.

THEMES

THE VITAL TRENDS THAT WILL SHAPE THE FUTURE OF THE WORLD OCEAN

THEME 1: OCEANS AS A SOURCE OF BOUNTY AND ECONOMIC GROWTH

Since the earliest days of humanity, oceans have served as both a reliable source of bounty and an engine for economic growth. Societies that figured out how to harvest maritime resources and navigate the vast expanse of unchartered waters came to dominate human history. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is the legal framework for the global oceans and somewhat levels the ‘playing field’ between large and small coastal states. Yet, the countries that dominate commercial shipping, legal and illegal fishing, and naval force projections hold disproportionate power in maritime geopolitics. How these trends will play out in the future, over the vast ocean spaces, will fundamentally reshape the future of humanity.

THEME 2: HUMAN IMPACTS ON THE OCEANS

The once bountiful and pristine oceans have been degraded through massive, multi-faceted, and complex activities. This session will explore the human-induced ecological burden on oceans, and what can be done to reduce the most harmful actions. Maritime shipping carries 90 percent of world trade, yet there are emissions and spills that result from this vital activity. Other harmful impacts to consider include: IUU fishing, global ocean warming, ocean acidification, sea ice loss, sea level rise, mangrove destruction, coral reef loss, ocean plastics, noise pollution, and invasive species.

THEME 3: EXPLORING, MAPPING, AND SENSING THE OCEAN

This session will provide a global perspective on how we currently map and monitor the oceans. It will also give a glimpse of what and how geospatial tools will be used in the future to sense the vastness of our oceans. As the oceans constitute more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, it is no surprise that much of it is still unmapped – if not physically, then biologically. International organizations such as the International Hydrographic Organization, World Meteorological Organization, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recent report on the Changing Oceans & Cryosphere are enhancing our scientific understanding of the oceans. New technologies are closing this gap, but the oceans most inhospitable depths leave us with a vast unknown that we must better understand before we will be able to develop appropriate protective measures.

THEME 4: THE OCEANS AS A CONTESTED ENVIRONMENT

The need to share the World Ocean has generated extraordinary international cooperation over the last century but there are new areas of geopolitical tension. To date, UNCLOS provides a critical legal framework to bring order to the maritime world. Similarly, the International Maritime Organization has produced many pioneering international conventions regarding marine safety and environmental protection. Scores of conservation areas have been created to project marine resources. Yet this session will also consider the contested future of oceans and coastal areas facing sea-level rise. How will the challenges of small island nations, access to Arctic waterways, control of the South China Sea, and increased resource competition undermine areas of geopolitical agreement?

THEME 5: THE MARITIME ARCTIC IN AN ERA OF PROFOUND CHANGE

The top of the world is warming at twice the rate of the lower latitudes. The extraordinary retreat of Arctic sea ice provides for greater marine access and potentially longer seasons of navigation. Globalization has come to the Arctic Ocean with advanced polar ships carrying natural resources (oil, gas & hard minerals) out of the Arctic to global markets. The subsistence lifestyles of the Arctic’s indigenous peoples, many of which live in the coastal marine environments, are being impacted by climate change and industrial development. Finally, the Arctic cannot be divorced from global geopolitics regarding expanded seabed claims, regional sanctions, naval ship operations (including nuclear submarines) that make his marine space part of the global security arena.

THEME 6: CHANGING COASTAL ENVIRONMENT

Sixty percent of the world’s major cities are located in the coastal zone and 40 percent of the human population lives within 100 km of the coastal zone. Climate change, sea level rise, coastal erosion, and coastal flooding will have profound impacts on millions of people. The concept of AguaTerra, remnants of human culture continuously being discovered and mapped on the seafloor, will be presented as a prelude to the changes to come. Over the next thirty years, how will people in coastal zones prepare for and adapt to sea level rise and coastal erosion due to extreme weather events? What are the infrastructural and land use decisions that should be considered?

THEME 7: PROTECTING THE BLUE PLANET: THE WAY AHEAD

While the enormity of human impacts on the oceans is extensive, perhaps strategic geo-engineering efforts might undo or at least mitigate the negative actions of the last two centuries. This session will explore the investments and policy decisions that can, will, and should be made if we are to deal with the different ecological burdens that humanity has foisted upon maritime areas. What innovative approaches might avert the worst of the human-induced trends likely to befall oceans over the coming decades?

SYMPOSIUM COMMITTEE

SYMPOSIUM CHAIRS


Dr. Chris Verlinden


Applied Ocean Sciences


Dr. Lawson Brigham


University of Alaska Fairbanks

Event Details

Hotels

Partnering Hotels will be listed soon

Contact Us

  917-745-8354
  ags@americangeo.org

Venue

Alfred Lerner Hall
2920 Broadway
Columbia University
New York, NY 10027
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