Venice is a Sinking City in Rising Waters

 Venice is a Sinking City in Rising Waters

The Venice Biennale officially opened this Saturday, bringing art lovers from all over the world to Italy’s impressive city of canals. The way Venice was constructed -- built on wooden piles driven deep into the ground -- makes it especially vulnerable to climate change. The global sea level has risen nearly 9 inches since 1880. Under worst-case scenario predictions, that number could rise to almost four feet; the higher sea levels make dangerously high tides more frequent. In addition to rising waters, the city is also sinking. By 2023, a piece of infrastructure called the Mose, a flood barrier, will be fully operational and hopefully provide protection for Venice from Adriatic surges.

Earth Stories: Venice | The Sinking City (Climate Change Documentary), June 19, 2021.

CBS: New artificial dam aims to save Venice from climate change-induced flooding, December 11, 2020.

Why This Matters

Rising waters are a threat to the whole city of Venice. The water level is currently above most buildings’ stone bases, which can cause rot to the porous bricks. Buildings, including the famed St. Mark's Basilica, are at risk.

And even if the flood barriers do their job of keeping water out, there are other consequences of stopping the flow of water to and from the sea. The city doesn’t have a comprehensive sewer system, so extensively using the barriers would turn the lagoon into “a dead, stinking swamp,” writes Anna Somers Cocks, editor-in-chief of The Art Newspaper.

A Wetlands-Based Solution

The barrier system is already causing problems for the lagoon and its surrounding wetlands and mudflats, according to a recent study by University of Padova researchers. The ecosystem relies on the water flow to move sand and silt out to the marshes. In the past two years, since the city started using the barriers, researchers saw a decline in marsh sediment.

As Davide Tognin, one of the researchers, told EuroNews, “They mitigate coastal flooding by buffering waves and storm surges, enhance water quality, filter nutrients and pollutants, take up atmospheric carbon at rates much larger than terrestrial ecosystems and constitute peculiar habitats for endangered species.”

Advocating for solutions that acknowledge the interlinked nature of the lagoon itself and the city of Venice is a local group, We Are Here Venice. Restoring the lagoon, they posit, is the way to build a Venice for the future that “interprets the city together with its encircling lagoon as a matrix of interlinked natural, cultural and social capital.”

AFP: Venice nurtures its lagoon back to health, August 12, 2020.