Spatial and temporal ways of knowing sea level rise: bringing together multiple perspectives

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

  • Authors:
  • Celia McMichael
  • Uma Kothari
  • Karen McNamara
  • Alex Arnall


Sea level rise presents risks to ecosystems, populations and infrastructure in low-lying areas. This paper considers diverse ways of knowing, understanding and experiencing these risks. It explores differences and connections between knowledge produced through the technological methods of scientific research and that which emerges through the experiences and insights of local people. For example, while scientific assessments measure and forecast, among other things, the height and rate of vertical change in the sea level using instruments such as tide gauges and radar-firing satellites, for local populations sea level rise is largely perceived and knowable through everyday processes and lived experiences of coastal changes as sea waters encroach onto the land. The paper reveals this diversity of knowledge and how it is produced. It explores how these different forms of knowledge might coalesce in ways that can more effectively inform understandings of, and responses to, the varied effects of sea level rise. Focusing specifically on spatial and temporal understandings of sea level rise – e.g. spatial understanding of the vertical rise of sea level and inward encroachment of sea water; temporal understanding of the time horizon of impacts from the everyday to the decadal and centennial - the paper concludes by arguing the importance of integrating scientific measurement and modelling with local knowledge. It suggests that local and Indigenous knowledge should not merely represent an enrichment of scientific facts, but rather that bringing together local/Indigenous and scientific knowledge can provide significant ways of knowing and sensing the world that can build the resilience of social-ecological systems.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 20 Jan 2021