Venice is inundated with floodwaters, with more than 85 percent of the city, including its historic basilica and centuries-old buildings, experiencing floods. Both residents and tourists are forced to navigate streets in waist-high waters, prompting the Venetian mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, to issue a state of emergency for the city. Nearly a third of Venice’s 1,100 raised walkways are now overwhelmed by high water. While exceptionally high tides, called acqua alta, have occurred here every five years or so, this year’s deluge is the worst since 1966. A combination of climate change and a billion-dollar project derailed by political scandal are factors contributing to the damage.
“Venice is on its knees,” Brugnaro lamented earlier this week on Twitter. “We need everyone’s help to overcome these days that are putting us to the test.”
Heavy rain, strong southerly winds and a full moon worked together, scientists say, in drawing the tidewater higher than usual. Traditionally, Venetians have recognized that whenever water climbs to more than 4.5 feet above the hydrographic station at Punta della Salute, the tide is then deemed an “exceptional” one. Meanwhile, the high tide earlier this week had a high-water mark registering 6 feet 2 inches, which is just a couple of inches below the highest Venetian flood ever recorded back in 1966.
Climate change is exacerbating the situation as melting ice, snow and glaciers around the world are raising sea levels. The sea level rise places Venice at greater risk.
But other aspects are at play as well. Venice is sinking due to subsidence from plate tectonic movement underneath, wherein the Adriatic plate is subducting beneath the Apennines Mountains. Similarly, Venice has long been pumping groundwater from beneath the city; as the ground compacts from centuries of building construction, the city is shifting while it settles, causing a subsidence range of 0.04 to 0.20 inches (or 1 to 5 millimeters) per year.
Unfortunately, Venice’s planned project for a series of large, movable undersea barriers, called MOSE, is still far from completion, due to soaring cost overruns, delays and corruption scandals. MOSE’s floodgates are designed to be raised above the seabed to shut off the lagoon from rising sea levels. The endeavor is still in a testing phase.
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