The Conversation: How do we Protect Venice from Flooding and Sea Level Rise?

Venice, Italy. Rambling Traveler, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

According to The Conversation, if we don’t take urgent action, climate change could cause flooding to occur in the ancient Italian city of Venice.

Preserving cultural and historic treasures in a changing climate may mean transforming them

November 14, 2020 12.40am AEDT

Erin Seekamp

Professor of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, North Carolina State University

With global travel curtailed during the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are finding comfort in planning future trips. But imagine that you finally arrive in Venice and the “floating city” is flooded. Would you stay anyway, walking through St. Mark’s Square on makeshift catwalks or elevated wooden passages – even if you couldn’t enter the Basilica or the Doge’s Palace? Or would you leave and hope to visit sometime in the future?

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently reported that over the next 30 years flooding in Venice will increase. With the Adriatic Sea rising a few millimeters each year, severe flooding that once happened every 100 years is predicted to happen every six years by 2050, and every five months by 2100.

Venice is just one example of the challenges of preserving iconic landmarks that are threatened by the effects of climate change, such as rising seas and recurrent, intensifying droughts, storms and wildfires. In my research as a social scientist, I help heritage managers make tough decisions prioritizing which sites to save when funds, time or both are limited.

Read more:

I hate to break it to you Erin, but some people think Venice is already flooded, and has been for centuries. Venice was originally built on a chain of low lying estuary islands, by people fleeing the violence of the Italian mainland following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. When Venice began to sink, rather than abandon their beautiful city people decided to build upwards. There is no reason for them not to continue building upwards indefinitely – I’m pretty sure modern construction techniques can keep up with a few mm per year subsidence or sea level rise or whatever.

Venice is hardly unique, except maybe in that they chose to have canals rather than elevated streets. Several US cities, like Chicago and Seattle, were also raised several metres to defeat flooding, but those cities also raised the level of their streets, otherwise parts of Chicago and Seattle might have eventually become like Italy’s Venice.

Even without large scale city projects, people who renovate houses in flood prone areas often raise the floor a little, if they perceive the flooding is causing a problem.

102 thoughts on “The Conversation: How do we Protect Venice from Flooding and Sea Level Rise?

      • Pffft, that’s so last millennium.

        I have an incredibly brilliant idea on how to solve this. First, you stop all human emissions of carbon dioxide, and then wait until atmospheric CO2 levels are down to preindustrial. At which point, having reduced the global temperature to LIA levels, on-land polar ice and glaciers will increase to the point where sea level will stabilize and might actually even fall. Venice is saved if everyone pulls together on this. Yes, I know a couple of Laws of Physics need some tweaking, but this is a serious problem for vacationers and honeymooners everywhere, so let’s get behind my plan.

        Do I get a prize?

    • Eustatic sea levels rose to a couple of meters above present level during the climatic maximum about 7000 years ago. It is theorised they will continue to fall until the next ice-age – but with somehow regular, intermittent warmer or cooler periods, each lasting 1000 or 1500 years. At present they are rising slowly because we are in such warm spell – and we theorise this will continue for perhaps another 100 or 200 years before reverting to its inevitable, downward course.

      Paleo-climatologists theorise that the sudden, added factor of CO2 to the atmosphere will be of some minor importance.

      Consequently, most historical cities are in now in fact some distance inland – again depending on the amount of local land subsidence or land rise. In modern time, if enough inventive people, with enough energy available, happen to live on a coast line that is predominantly sinking it is quite possible to adapt to that successfully (viz. the Netherlands and Venice).

  1. Like New Orleans, build a city in a swamp, live with the swamp or move out of the swamp. Next problem please.

    • Venice was built atop islands of silt in a lagoon about 1400 years ago and flooding has always been an issue to be dealt with.

        • Absolutely correct, subsidence is the main problem in Venice. The main subsidence was caused in the past by taking water from aquifers beneath the city -a practise that is now prohibited. These days water is supplied by a pipe from the mainland.

          • According to one analysis I read, some of the problem has similar origins to some of New Orleans’ difficulties. Engineering changes, for commercial reasons, make it much easier for storm surge to reach high levels in New Orleans, sucha clearing and deepening the Mississippi’s channel south of New Orleans cause difficulties resulting in the sinking of land that used to be built up by the yearly silt deposit that now get swept far out to sea.. In Venice, part of this was in making a deep water channel to allow those huge cruse ships to reach the city, to get more tourists to visit.

    • I imagine the doorway to the N’Orleans Council Chamber has this legend above it:

      “Focus Your MInds to Your Service, for when you are up to your arse in alligators, it’s difficult to remember the job is to drain the swamp.”

  2. Looks like another case of a liberal social scientist invoking IPCC’s RCP8.5 (back to coal) for political purposes. Hmm.

    • Ron
      One doesn’t get published in The Conversation without liberal credentials. They don’t even maintain a pretense of being objective.

    • Actually , he said only a few mm/year.

      With natural sea level rise and subsidence, this is probably a realistic number

      Very unusual for anyone on the CONversation to have even a hint of realism.

      • Indeed he did say a few mm/yr rise in the Adriatic Sea. But PSMSL data show otherwise.

        The main Venice tide gauge (Venezia Punta Salute) shows relative sea level rising at a rate of just over 1 mm/yr for over 100 years with no indication of an increasing rise rate. The associated GPS elevation gauge shows the area to be sinking 1.73 mm/yr. Thus it seems that sea level rise is most definitely not the problem; the city is sinking.

        Also, there are many other tide gauges throughout the Adriatic. All show low rise rates, none anything near “a few mm/yr” as the researcher reported.

        • “DHR November 16, 2020 at 1:53 pm

          The associated GPS elevation gauge shows the area to be sinking 1.73 mm/yr.”

          These people claim satellites are accurate to 3 100ths of a millimetre?

        • Ok, but it wasn’t the wildly exaggerated values we are used to seeing from the climate con-men.

          only somewhat exaggerated.. Will he get away with that on the CONversation, though 😉

  3. There is no reason for them not to continue building upwards indefinitely …

    Is there any reason Venice exists except for tourists? Tourists don’t want to see new stuff.

    • An ice cream and a drink cost my wife $70 near St. Marks square. Clearly the weight of tourist money in their bank vaults is causing land subsidence….

      • Go where the locals go out to eat. I doubt your gondolier will key you into where those places are but you can find out with a little effort. That is where you’ll get your best deals and often the best food and drink for the money.

        • Went to a place that served true local cuisine
          It was awful
          Jellied fish bones in sauce
          Awful polenta

          Avoid authentic Venice cuisine

          But also don’t eat near st marks
          Look but don’t buy

          Plenty of amazing food there

  4. It is a very low lying city, just inches above sealevel. There is practically no tidal cycle in the Adriatic, the connection to the open ocean at the strait of Gibraltar is a thousand miles away and too narrow to have a sufficient tidal flow into and out of the Mediterranian. The flooding in Venice is always caused by strong southerly winds pushing the waters of the Adriatic northwards.
    The way to defend the city is a (wind)surge barrier that is raised when needed. Construction is ongoing and more a battle against burocratic incompetence and corruption than against the elements.

    • Don’t forget that there has been a tremendous amount of dredging of the channels leading into the lagoon where Venice is located to allow larger and larger cruise ships to make port calls. This allows a lot more water to flow in when there are strong southerly winds. The new barriers that are almost completed should go a long way to counter this effect.

      • Need to keep out those god-awful cruise ships depositing thousands a day

        They are discussing limiting visitors and I could not agree more

        It’s being loved to death

  5. Just what, exactly, is a ‘social scientist’? Is it one that likes going to parties instead of staying in the lab without eating or washing? Just wondered…

    • They are fake “scientists “. Nothing they do can be repeated because humans are always adapting to their situation. Take the massive drop in tourism to Paris BEFORE covid. Or citizens revolting against a foreign invasion. Or even just walking because the gas price is higher. Humans will adapt withOUT government mandates long before the sea level rises.

    • A social scientist is someone who investigates the interactions between people based on status, wealth, education, personality type, and whatever they can think of, using the principle of hypothesis followed by experiment. Sort of like a mother-in-law….

  6. Venice recently successfully tested their floodgate system during an “acqua alta” (high water) back in October. from the New York Times article on the test:

    By 10 a.m., all 78 floodgates barricading three inlets to the Venetian lagoon had been raised, and even when the tide reached as high as four feet, water levels inside the lagoon remained steady, officials said.

    “There wasn’t even a puddle in St. Mark’s Square,” said Alvise Papa, the director of the Venice department that monitors high tides.

    Had the flood barriers not been raised, about half the city’s streets would have been under water, and visitors to St. Mark’s Square — which floods when the tide nears three feet — would have been wading in a foot and a half of water, he said.

    I think Venice can well withstand the few mm per year of sea level rise, even without build their buildings any higher.

  7. Really? Who is “we” kemosabe? It is the Italians’ problem. They make the money from tourism, so they can pay for it. Let THEM make Venice great again.

    • Venice is one of the great cities of the world (the greatest?) we all have a duty to protect this fantastic place


        • It is a great part of the heritage of the world and especially the west. I think that is worth preserving for posterity, education and visiting, far more than many much more trivial things.


          • Again, you are welcome to use YOUR money as you see fit. Let me choose where I use mine. Free To Choose. I will never go there. I have no desire to smell the stench.

          • Fine, if you feel that way, then send them *YOUR* money. You can even try to convince others to voluntarily send *THEIR* money, but do not *TAKE* my (or anyone else’s) money. There are plenty other priorities, closer to home, for which our money would be better spent and we, individually, wish to be the ones to decide what those are and where we spend *OUR* money. It’s not your money to spend, it’s ours individually.

    • We spent two weeks in Italy and Switzerland in the late 1980s. It didn’t rain one time (climate change?) Our only disappointment was Venice. It was unusually cold that day, so maybe that put me in a bad mood … but the canals were really dirty — polluted — not exactly what we envisioned. We left after one day.

      From the photo with this article, it’s obvious Venice is already “flooded” and managed to save itself for a long time. They don’t need any help. I hope they cleaned up the canals. Or blamed the pigeons.

  8. Professor of Parks and Recreation? Wasn’t that a comedy show a few years ago? Oh well. Probably more credible than Michael Mann.

  9. Italy loses cities now and then…Pompeii…Herculaneum…it happens….personally, I have no desire to visit….I would rather see the Coliseum…built by slaves?

  10. Oh dearie me whatever will we do?! As was already stated, Venice is flooded – fools, that’s hwy it is so unique. Please can we get on to stopping the atrocious waste of the “Green” idiocy and actually use the time and money to improve people’s lives- what a concept…

  11. Large parts of The Netherlands is 4 meter below sea level and I didn’t get wet feet when was there.
    The royal theater in Copenhagen is build on oak pylons and one can still go safely to a play there.

    The real problem is that most tasks takes forever in Italy. I once had a truckload of cowboy jeans, which customs used a day to declare in Verona. At the end the female customs officer, who inspected the truck, held a few pairs of pants up against her body. She then walked away with one pair of pants and said to me: “This pair needs to be inspected.” So I noted in the papers that one pair stolen by customs.

  12. Venice is sinking, it has always been sinking. Anybody who doesn’t understand this needs to be kept away from everything important.

    Let it go.

  13. Nice to know that 7.6 billion people need to pay more for energy to save one town that for years diverted money from flood barriers into graft.

    If venusians would rather divert money than water, who are we to interfere in their internal affairs?

  14. Don’t forget that there has been a tremendous amount of dredging of the channels leading into the lagoon where Venice is located to allow larger and larger cruise ships to make port calls. This allows a lot more water to flow in when there are strong southerly winds. The new barriers that are almost completed should go a long way to counter this effect.

  15. This is a perfect illustration of why adaptation is better than mitigation. Venice *already* was at risk of floods, no amount of mitigation will change that. But barriers to protect against floods not only fix the current problem, they can easily handle the piddly sea rise projected for the future as well. And it’s vastly cheaper than global mitigation, which could cost trillions while failing utterly to prevent the few millimeters per year of sea rise that has the social scientist so worried.

    This is true the world over; everywhere that could be possibly risked by centuries of tiny gradual sea level rise is already risked by sudden, large sea level rise caused by weather or tectonics. The only thing dumber than projecting that given many decades to prepare people will abandon their cities rather than adapt is projecting negative agricultural impacts from farmers failing to adopt to tiny raises of temperature over long period of times. Climate change is so slow and so small that it is much easier to adapt to than eliminating fossil fuels, or many other climate policies proposed in the name of mitigation.

  16. How dare you resist this shameless emotional pleading! You’re supposed to accept responsibility for all the things they say might happen, now, before your wallet is emptied by the ‘rona!

  17. Was Venice always a dumb place to build a city, or did centuries of global warming /sea level rise turn it into a dumb place for a city?

    When I consider that most of New Orleans is below sea level, except the French Quarter, I wonder why they rebuilt the low areas that flooded during extremely heavy rains in 1927, only to have the same areas flood again in 2005 with Hurricane Katrina. That’s called NOT adapting to the climate.

  18. No mention of MOSE?

    “MOSE: (MOdulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, Experimental Electromechanical Module) is a project intended to protect the city of Venice, Italy, and the Venetian Lagoon from flooding.

    The project is an integrated system consisting of rows of mobile gates installed at the Lido, Malamocco, and Chioggia inlets that are able to isolate the Venetian Lagoon temporarily from the Adriatic Sea during acqua alta high tides. Together with other measures, such as coastal reinforcement, the raising of quaysides, and the paving and improvement of the lagoon, MOSE is designed to protect Venice and the lagoon from tides of up to 3 metres (9.8 ft).

    The Consorzio Venezia Nuova[note 1] is responsible for the work on behalf of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport – Venice Water Authority.[note 2] Construction began simultaneously in 2003.[2] On 10 July 2020, the first full test was successfully completed, and after multiple delays, cost overruns, and scandals resulted in the project missing its 2018 completion deadline (originally a 2011 deadline)[3] it is now expected to be fully completed by the end of 2021.[4][5] On 3 October 2020, the MOSE was activated for the first time in the occurrence of a high tide event, preventing some of the low-lying parts of the city (in particular piazza San Marco) from being flooded.[6]

    The MOSE project is estimated to cost €5.496 billion, up €1.3 billion from initial cost projections.

    In 2014, 35 people, including Giorgio Orsoni, the Mayor of Venice, were arrested in Italy on corruption charges in connection with the MOSE Project. Orsoni was accused of receiving illicit funds from the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, the consortium behind the construction of the project, which he then used in his campaign to be elected mayor.[19] There were allegations that 20 million euros in public funds had been sent to foreign bank accounts and used to finance political parties.

    The project has met resistance from environmental and conservation groups such as Italia Nostra, and the World Wide Fund for Nature, who have made negative comments about the project.

    My take: The enviromental Left wackos haveand will always opposed anything that adapts infrastructure to rising sea levels, as it takes away the demand for the mitigation of emissions for the climate scam.

  19. Venice is paying for the fact that in 1291, they ordered all glass furnaces out and over to the island of Murano, due to fear of fire. How dumb was that? And to add insult to injury, glassmakers and blowers were essentially prisoners, as they didn’t want any of their secrets getting out (which they did anyway). This is why to this day, Murano glass, and indeed almost any hand blown glass is so high-priced today. Payback.

    • Several other commenters (myself included) have already mentioned that, so that answer to your question clearly is “no, you are not the only one who knows this”

  20. Venice has always had a sinking problem. However Venice’s population have persistently resisted contributing to a ‘Sinking Fund’ (excuse the pun) knowing full well that it would sink by corruption well before it could be used.
    A barrier system has at last been more or less completed; but I doubt it will solve the basic problems.

  21. I visited Venice for the first time as a boy in the late 60’s. Already then, everybody knew that Venice was doomed and it was expected that the demise would happen within ten years. Yeah, right. Don’t misunderstand me, the situation is dire, but it can be fixed. Venice is protected by a large lagoon and has good potential to achieve a certain level of control. The lagoon is surrounded by sandbanks of which “Lido di Jesolo” is well known.

    A bit off-topic: The summer trips to Venice/Lido di Jesolo were camping trips. There were very well-organized camping sites there, one of which had been a test course for German motorcycle/car brand NSU! The journey from our home town of Malmö in Sweden to Italy was an epic road trip in my father’s Volvo 142, overnight ferry to Germany, Autobahn, alps… Happy days!

  22. Hey, at least the guys was honest about it being only a a couple of mm/year.

    That is highly unusual for someone on the “CONversation”

  23. How do we Protect Venice from Flooding and Sea Level Rise?

    They way we always have, via capitalism.

    Continually adding floors to buildings as they sank was very expensive, but Venice was once a very wealthy city. At the time, the advantages of its location more than made up for the expense and inconvenience of dealing with the ever rising tide. This continued for the most part for centuries as long as Venice was an economic powerhouse of industry and trade. But by the end of the 19th century, it was the economic and political tides that changed for Venice, and its wealth and influence waned. It became a economic and cultural backwater and did not return to international consciousness again until its rediscovery by the romantics in the 20th century.

    Today, Venice survives economically mostly via tourism. Although tourism does bring in enough money to sustain numerous shopkeepers, hotels, restaurants and the arts, it’s nothing compared to the wealth that was created when Venice was a center of international manufacturing, trade and naval power. It’s been centuries since most of its long standing buildings have had floors added to avoid the advancing tides.

    So Venice’s biggest problem is not “global warming”. It’s that it is no longer an economically viable city that can afford to address its inevitable sinking. Tourism alone will never generate enough wealth to offset the expense of mitigating the consequences of its geologically vulnerable location as it did centuries ago.

    This provides a useful example for where eco-Progressivism is currently pushing the wealthy nations. By dismantling our economy in the name of preventing “climate change”, (something that even experts within the “consensus” believe we cannot do) we will no longer be able to afford to mitigate climate events that are inevitable regardless of our CO2 footprint.

    America today is more than wealthy enough to mitigate whatever effects there might be from climate change. That will not be the case should the socialists be allowed to convert our economy from industriousness to “social justice”. America will be at the mercy of the weather and will eventually sink metaphorically, just as Venice is sinking literally.

  24. Abstraction of water both in Venice and the nearby industrial areas in the lagoon have also played a significant part in the sinking of the city, though this has been largely halted as it was realised it was contributing to the threatened demise.
    The absurdly gargantuan tourist liners that are allowed to sail into Venice are a sign of intemperate greed and avarice by the city authorities and greatly diminishes my sympathy for Venice. They should put their house in order and charge those coming by liner 200 dollars each to land. That should provide sufficient money to fund further remedial action.
    Or better still get rid of the eyesore liners.

    • You’re right. The thing which is really destroying Venice is the cruise ship.
      Too many people in a small place at the same time is a recipe for disaster.
      Have had some beautiful late night time tours free of the ravaging hoards.
      Would never go there during the high season.

      • All those tourists make Venice overpopulated putting it in danger of tipping over and capsizing. Just ask Rep. Hank Johnson how that works.

    • I can’t see how ‘eyesore liners’ would contribute to Venetian subsidence, but ruthless depletion of the local aquifers certainly did.
      Still, climate change can do pretty well anything (bad), so it may as well cop the blame for this, too.

  25. “Several US cities, like Chicago and Seattle, were also raised several metres to defeat flooding,”

    I think Chicago was jacked up so they could install sewer lines.

  26. The Venetians could always move up to the second floor. What intrigued me about Venice was the sewage disposal system and why everyone doesn’t die of mold since it is so deadly.

    • According to professor Bjorn Lomborg in Copenhagen, the efforts planned for the EU is to spend about 8% of its BNP on climate (around 1.4 trillion Euros) over the next three decades. This will result in a temperature decrease of 0.004C by the end of the century.

  27. “How do we Protect Venice from Flooding and Sea Level Rise?”

    Um, shouldn’t that question been asked a dozen or so centuries ago? Venice (due to the location it was built) has always had flooding and sea level rise issues, always will. All that can be done is adapt to it, same as they’ve always done.

  28. Had a discussion with a climate alarmist co-worker. I don’t usually do that, but couldn’t help myself this time. The young man bolstered his argument by telling me his uncle worked for Exxon, and Exxon had to raise one oil rig because of rising seas. I was flabbergasted by the stupidity. Only one rig had to be raised??

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