Can you imagine a world with ice?

That headline’s not a typo.

Lots of people are wondering what it would mean to have a world without ice. However, even as glaciers melt and sea level rises there’s still going to be a lot of ice around for a long time, especially in the winter. In fact, ice is likely to become more important as commercial enterprises and the states that support them become increasingly active in the polar regions.



Yet we live in a world whose political geography assumes a binary, permanent, and easily observable divide between land and water, with no intervening, or unstable, element in the middle. Land is understood as solid, stable, malleable, divisible, and supportive of human habitation, and as forming the basis for state territory. Water is understood as being liquid, mobile, indivisible, and hostile to human habitation. Its incorporation into state territory is partial and only by way of its being proximate to land.

Ice, however, complicates this world view, and this becomes readily apparent when one follows the experiences and challenges faced by indigenous residents, settlers, miners, drillers, shippers, scientists, and state officials who live in and pass through the polar regions. Ice melts and freezes; it breaks apart and moves; it has both land-like and water-like social properties; ice edges are unclear. In short, ice is as challenging for international lawyers, boundary practitioners, and political theorists as it is for geoscientists and global environmental policymakers.

These challenges, in turn, lead one to ask whether international law can accommodate the realities of a world with ice. If so, what would a law of ice look like? And what implications would this have for the fundamental principles of territorial state sovereignty?

To address these questions, IBRU, Durham University’s Centre for Borders Research, will be launching its Ice Law Project with a Workshop on International Law, State Sovereignty, and the Ice-Land-Water Interface, to be held in Durham 19-21 June. The programme is set, but a limited number of seats are available for observers from outside the Durham community. If you would like to attend, please contact Liz Kennedy.


4 comments on “Can you imagine a world with ice?

  1. The legal status of ice may have implications for those of us working on conservation of ice habitat (see http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/where_we_work/arctic/last_ice_area/). I’d be interested to see any outcomes from the workshop.

  2. Reblogged this on Progressive Geographies and commented:
    Phil Steinberg explains the rationale behind a workshop at Durham next week, at which I am one of the invited discussants. I say a bit about how my work on territory might relate to the Arctic, and ice, in this post – http://progressivegeographies.com/2013/12/16/territory-the-continental-shelf-and-ice-my-comments-to-the-arcticnet-conference-in-halifax/

  3. […] on the Workshop on the Ice-Land-Water Interface that was held in Durham 19-21 June, IBRU: Durham University’s Centre for Borders Research, in […]

  4. […] months ago I wrote a post on this blog titled ‘Can you imagine a world with ice?’ Amidst legitimate concerns about climate change, we all too often forget that the Arctic will still […]

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