An Ultraviole(n)t Border

An Ultraviole(n)t Border

Posted on November 4, 2021 by xavigonzalez

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Authorship: Essay by Ersela Kripa & Stephen Mueller. Previously published in e-flux as part of At The Border, a collaboration between A/D/O and e-flux Architecture, in April 2020.

The US-Mexico borderlands can be defined by shifting and intensifying bands of ultraviolet radiation that impact bodies in asymmetrical ways, enact new forms of migration, and condition space and power relations. Operating within this framework, the national security apparatus has become expert at deploying tactical infrastructures that mitigate the impact of ultraviolet radiation on its agents in order to inspect and manage other bodies more efficiently. Border agents deploy, manage, and appropriate shade in the name of state security. While state agents and security space are increasingly protected from impacts of ultraviolet radiation, the borderland public and public space beyond the limits of security space are routinely exposed.

CBP Agents Amass in the Shadow of the San Ysidro Port of Entry (CBP, Public Domain)

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a result of the high sun exposure that routinely and relentlessly impacts border cities, landscapes, and populations. Latitudinal parallels are commonly used to approximate the boundaries of shared territories with common UV exposure. But, in the borderland, these east-west transects hold a looser grip over the limits of the ultraviolet frontier. Shared ultraviolet territories appear to bend along the boundary, their geometry complicated by the strong form of the border. Inflected by changes in altitude, topography, and vegetation, maps showing distribution patterns of UV exposure risk in the region tightly parallel the meandering line of the international boundary. These maps position the border as an organizing feature in UV distribution while thickening and blurring the border line into a transnational border zone of shared atmospheric risk.

Borderland UV Exposure Risk: Feb, Mar, Apr (NASA Earth Observatory, Public Domain)

This ultraviolet border is unstable, conditional, ephemeral, volatile. It migrates with changes in solar exposure and atmospheric pollution throughout each day and throughout the year, contorting itself to the geography of the borderland. Climate change is mobilizing the ultraviolet border, expanding territories of ultraviolet radiation exposure risk to the north. The ultraviolet border correlates with a frontline in a widening global ultraviolet exposure gap, in which ultraviolet radiation will asymmetrically impact populations closer to the equator. Studies show that by 2100, UV radiation at tropical latitudes will continue to intensify, while mid- and polar latitudes will see decreasing amounts, exacerbating the inequity of exposure to already-vulnerable regions.

Zone of Increased Ultraviolet Risk; Background Image: US-Mexico International Migration based on US and Mexico Census Data, with dark orange showing percentage of population not born in the area (Courtesy the Authors)</