HomeTips & TrendsVenice is Sinking as the Sea Level Rises

Venice is Sinking as the Sea Level Rises


The uber-popular Venice of Italy has a lot going for it. Aptly named the City of Canals, it features an ultra-romantic setting, lovely waterways, and charming Renaissance architecture that also double as the perfect backdrop for all those selfies..

But, the UNESCO World Heritage site is now being plagued by an ungovernable problem due to climate change, in the form of rising sea levels and increasing rainfall. The Floating City has been besieged by huge floods since last Tuesday.

Venice City Under Water

Image by financialtimes via Instagram

The city of Venice is, however, no stranger to floods. In fact, the floods are a regular occurrence that the locals simply refer to as acqua alta. But this year’s deluge has been a particularly severe one.

Last week, a high tide hit the Italian metropolis causing near-unprecedented water levels. Specifically, this year’s acqua alta hit a high-water level of 74 inches as of last Tuesday — just four inches shy of breaking the 78-inch record documented way back in 1966.

Image by ilmessaggero.it via Instagram
Image by ilmessaggero.it via Instagram

Moreover, the extremely high tide has overwhelmed and debilitated about 85 per cent of Venice thus far. And some parts of the city have even been subjected to floodwater as high as six feet – that is almost similar to the depth of an Olympic-size swimming pool!

Image by edwingraal via instagram

To make matters worse, the acqua alta doesn’t seem to be letting up any time soon. With floodwaters pushing boats ashore and submerging important historical landmarks underwater, this chaotic scene paints a picture of the city’s current predicament. Plus, the flood has also caused damage to local businesses including spoiling groceries and knocking books into murky pools.

Strong wind and high tide brought a water taxi up on to the pavement from the Riva dell’Arsenale on November 13, 2019, in Venice, Italy.
Image credit: Alessandro Mazzola
Image credit: Alessandro Mazzola

But that’s not all, the terrible flood has so far claimed two lives — both of whom died on Pellestrina, an island in the Venetian archipelago.

Image by bumblemeettravel via Instagram

The Venice flood is so serious that the city’s mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, has already declared a state of emergency. This resulted in schools and a majority of Venice’s attractions (including the iconic St. Mark’s Square) being closed as the city attempts to recover from the devastation.

Venice is in a state of emergency as the Italian city braces from one of the worst floods in its history

How Did One of The Worst Floods in Venice History Occur?

Image by wonminpark via Instagram

As mentioned, acqua alta is a regular phenomenon that happens every so often in Venice. However, this particular flood was exacerbated by a confluence of different risk factors.

Ahead of the catastrophic floods, a full moon caused water levels to be unusually high. Add to that heavy rainfall and strong gales, and you’ve got one of the worst floods in the city’s history on your hands.

But nature isn’t fully to blame for this disaster. Climate change is also adding to the overflow of water in the sea. As ice caps melt and sea levels rise, the inevitable high tides expose Venice to greater risk. And just to make matters a whole lot more complicated, the city of Venice is also gradually sinking.

This is due to a combination of tectonic plates shifting below the city, and water pumped out of the ground for industrial use, resulting in Venice sinking almost five inches between 1950 and 1970. And the city is continually dipping year by year which further raises the risk of another calamity in the near future.

Overcoming the Flood Problem

So, Venetians are acutely aware of these looming threats. But why hasn’t there been any efforts to address the issue? Actually, efforts were made to circumvent this problem by utilizing a flood-barrier system. Yet, the project remains uncompleted due to numerous reasons.

The MOSE System for the Defense Against High Waters in Venice

Named after the Italian acronym for “Experimental Electromechanical Module”, MOSE is one such campaign aimed at reducing the impact of the high floodwaters on Venice. The proposed project uses a series of large floodgates to barricade the lagoon surrounding Venice when sea levels rise or storms create a flood risk. And the system can indeed be implemented successfully, as evidenced by a similar flood-prevention architecture already established in the Netherlands.

However, the MOSE project is constantly mired by unfortunate circumstances and political scandals. For one, astoundingly long and unending project delays.

How long? Well, MOSE was first proposed in 1984, but it took nearly 20 years for it to get drawn up with construction only beginning in 2003. And the project has experienced continued delays ever since. The project was initially slated to be completed in 2011 and would have provided protection from tides up to 10 feet tall.

But alas, the project went over budget, behind schedule, and was weighed down by a corruption scandal.

People walk in a flooded St. Mark’s Square on November 14, 2019, in Venice, Italy.
Image credit: Pierre Teyssot

Also, apart from its potential environmental impact, MOSE was never intended to be the be-all and end-all for Venice’s flood prevention. MOSE was designed to protect the city over the next 50 to 100 years. But this timeline might run out sooner as Venice continues to sink below sea level.

Still, MOSE is thought to be an effective solution to the current flood problem. What will determine the future of Venice will be how the authorities move on and address the issue of climate change.

Moving Forward

To recap, the most recent acqua alta has been attributed to a combination of human failure and climate change rather than solely a natural occurrence.

And as travellers, we assume that the larger issue at hand (climate change) has no immediate effect on us. But as proven by Venice’s unfortunate situation, that is no longer the case. In short, everything we do today has an effect on the world tomorrow — and by extension, our choices today may even affect our travel plans in the future.

As of right now, we aren’t fully sure of when the floods will subside. So at the very least, you have no choice but to postpone your trip to Venice for now.


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