Climate Crisis and the Environment

Venice Floods: Preventable or Not?

People walk through flooded Venice.

Venice is a beautiful city; full of iconic historical buildings to amazing architecture, but little do people know that it is a sinking city which struggles with flooding. This year has been no different; Venice is flooded, and it is the worst it has been since 1966. Venice experienced the second-largest tidal wave of over 1.87mm. The highest observed damage was in 1966, where 75% of Venice was affected by a 1.94m tide, mortifying the city.

Although climate change is an influential factor, for example the sea level rising and the extreme weather, it cannot be the only reason for it. This is because major flooding has affected Venice 19 times since the first recorded date in the 1960. However, there has been an increase in the occurrences of such events in recent years.

“there has been an increase in the occurrences of such events [major flooding] in recent years”

Venice is an island that is sinking for two reasons – one of which is a natural process called ‘land subsidence’ and the other relating to tidal flows, where the phenomena is called ‘Aqua Alta’ (high water). Aqua Alta is the result of tidal changes, which are affected by multiple factors such as strong winds and storms. Venice will always be concerned with the tidal changes as it has 3 canals running straight through the city, and, with the tidal rises, the sea water enters the laguna (i.e. Venice). As the tides are much worse in the winter months, and the combination of both the land subsidence and the Aqua Alta, the likelihood of flooding is a greater concern and one that engineers try to design in anticipation of. It is common for Venice to obtain such high tides once every 5 years, meaning that it can be modelled against.

Contrary to popular belief, a flood design framework was created, MOSE (a $6-billion flood barrier), which was introduced to prevent Venice from flooding in 2003. The project’s aim was to build a steel barrier that would resist against 10-feet tidal waves. However, it became hugely delayed from a finish date of 2016 to 2021 (remind you of the infamous Crossrail being delayed?).  There is a lot of controversy surrounding the project from the affect the project will have on lagoons, to the maintenance of the system and whether the project will be able to work under greater stresses in the future, but considering that the city is in a state of emergency, something has to be done. The project was set to see the trialling phase starting the following year, where it was hoping to have 78 gates fully operational and working simultaneously for tides greater that 1.1m up to 3m.

“considering that the city is in a state of emergency, something has to be done”

Unfortunately, it takes a devastating event to happen for leaders to act and realise the importance of executing flood and coastal designs, instead of putting it on the back burner. At least 2 residents have died due to the floods. Iconic areas, such as St Mark’s Square, are underwater. A photo was taken recently where someone was actually swimming across the square.

Something needs to be done, before it’s too late.

Saira Akhtar

Featured image courtesy of CameliaTWU via Flickr. No changes were made to this image. Image use license here.

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