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Venice: A city sinking

Chances are Venice, Italy is on your bucket list of places to visit. Known for its beautiful canals and rich history, Venice is a city like no other. But, there’s a problem: Venice is sinking.

Venice—located in a lagoon—is built on artificial land consisting of long rods of timber pushed vertically into a ground consisting of loose clay and mud. As a result, Venice’s foundation is being compacted over time by the weight of the city, and buildings are sitting lower in the ground. Groundwater extraction has exacerbated this issue (BBC).

A canal in Venice

Not only is Venice sinking, but sea levels are rising. If the increase in global temperature is kept under 2°C, there could be a 13 inch relative increase in sea level in Venice. And, if this increase were to reach 4°C, there could be a shocking 5.9 feet relative increase in sea level (EGU). This sea level rise, combined with the effects of “acqua alta,” a season of extremely high tides in October and November, could continue to be detrimental to the city of Venice. In fact, Venice faced the second-worst flood in its history in 2019. The tide reached 6.1 feet above sea level and 80 percent of Venice was underwater (BBC).

Government officials in Venice have worked towards mitigating damage caused by high sea levels. Cruise ships, which can displace water in the canals, were banned from the city center, and speed limits were set to lessen the wakes (NY Times). Additionally, sea walls that can be raised when the sea level exceeds 3.6 ft have been constructed through the MOSE project (BBC). However, despite these measures, UNESCO still believes that Venice is in danger due to mass tourism, developmental projects, and climate change. They note that the sea walls are incomplete and need better maintenance and larger ships should be diverted to other ports to minimize disturbances. Additionally, raising the sea walls too frequently is costly and could trap sewage in the lagoon (NY Times).

The MOSE project will not last forever. The government of Venice will eventually need to implement more sustainable solutions that can both prevent further damage to the city and retain its original aesthetic. Venice is truly one of the most precious cities in the world, but it’s also another example of a city sinking.

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