Venice: A Treasure Sinking


Aden Meisel

In 2019, more than 85% of Venice found itself flooded in 1.5 meters (a little less than 5 feet) of seawater, according to ​​Jon Henley’s Guardian article. In the past century, flooding has been a major problem in the many streets and plazas of Venice. But now, Venice is facing some of the most severe floods it has ever experienced. 

Due to a number of factors including plate tectonics and climate change, Venice is becoming less inhabitable by the decade. In November 2019, Venice’s mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, said “Venice is on its knees.” Though its reputation has been coined as ‘The Floating City,’ recent years are beginning to show that Venice may not have much longer living up to its nickname.

As of late 2019, over $1 Billion worth of water damage has been inflicted on the ancient city, most of which is now claimed to be irreparable. Furthermore, infrastructure is not the only way flooding has affected the city–tourism in Venice has also taken a dive due to, according to Ellen Cranley’s Insider article, “many tourists canceling their reservations in order to avoid wading through high waters.”

Venice’s loss of elevation can be attributed to two dooming factors, the first being the movement of plate tectonics. According to Paula Kaspar’s WorldAtlas article, Venice’s geographical placement suffers from the subduction of the Adriatic Plate beneath the Apennines Mountains, which results in its losing elevation. 

The second factor to Venice’s recent elevation loss is the worldwide rising of sea levels due to climate change. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the oceans absorb 90% of all excess heat in our atmosphere, which can be attributed to the increasing volume of released greenhouse gases. Additionally, “[t]he two major causes of global sea level rise are thermal expansion caused by warming of the ocean (since water expands as it warms) and increased melting of land-based ice, such as glaciers and ice sheets.”

Though possible solutions have been suggested and funded to combat “acqua alta,” or high water, they currently face a number of setbacks, and in some cases, even fail to block high flooding in the lagoon. In an attempt to prevent flooding in the Venice lagoon in 1984, the Interministerial Committee for Economic Programming (CIPE) funded the construction of 78 flood barriers guarding the inlets between the lagoon and the rising levels of the Adriatic Sea. This was called the MOSE project.

However, according to Marco Bertorello’s Wired article, the project has been “ravaged by ​​corruption scandals and technical difficulties due to its experimental nature.” Such difficulties have resulted in the project missing its 2018 expected date of completion. 

But in July 2020, the first test was successfully completed, and MOSE was finally deemed functional – which makes Venice’s recent flooding all the more confusing. Later that year, yet another surge flooded the city in nearly 5 feet of water. According to Rebecca Hughes’ Forbes article, “[t]he reason for not raising the barriers has been blamed on a mistaken forecast. The tide was initially forecast to reach 120cm, lower than the level at which the MOSE is automatically activated. By the time the level had been revised to 145cm, it was too late for the defenses to be raised.

In terms of the future of Venice, it is evident that the challenges it faces remaining afloat threaten over 1000 years of existence and progress. It should be one of the world’s top priorities to find ways to preserve this iconic destination, along with further addressing the devastating effects of climate change, which threaten coastal populations around the globe.