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Will Venice Survive Sea Level Rise from Climate Change?

Will Venice Survive Sea Level Rise from Climate Change?

Will a $6 billion barrier protect Venice from climate driven sea level rise?

We certainly hope so.

As a UNESCO ‘World Heritage Site’, there is no doubt that Venice is a gem of architecture, history, culture and so much more. A small city with a long, rich history, it holds an astonishing number of art and architectural treasures within its fragile borders.

Piazza San Marco, Venice

It all started roughly 1600 years ago, when settlers began building a community on the marshy islands in the lagoon off the coast of what is present day northern Italy. The founders' idea was to use the ocean as protection against barbarians, who, with the fall of the Roman Empire were repeatedly sacking mainland settlements.

From this tentative beginning, the city of Venice emerged and grew, and by the 10th century, it rose to be a powerful city-state, soon to dominate trade between Europe and the East.

Venetians have always lived in a water dominated environment, characterized by fierce storms, and slowly rising sea levels. In recent decades, the effects of global warming have exacerbated both these factors.

The wake-up call came on November 3, 1966, when a huge storm with high winds, coming at high tide, flooded Piazza San Marco--the city's main square—with 62 inches of water.

Since then, Piazza San Marco has been flooded with at least a few inches of water many times each year - especially during the winter months. And throughout the city, a visitor will find stacks of wooden walkway sections, ready to be quickly deployed when this flooding occurs.

Will Project MOSE come to the rescue?

venice project mose climate change

To address this flooding, Italy in 2003 began construction on Project MOSE (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico), an ambitious undertaking that involves placing steel gates—which will lie flat--on the ocean’s bottom at the entrances to Venice’s three lagoons. When the tide rises dangerously, air will be pumped into these gates and they will tilt up and shut out the Adriatic. Needless to say, the project is costly and complicated, and the world will be watching to see if it works.

But even if Project MOSE is an effective defense against super-storm tides, skeptics have been quick to point out that it fails to deal with the long term implications of gradually rising ocean levels. This issue affects not only Venice, but coastal environments all over the globe—areas where a significant percentage of the world’s population resides.

Researchers, climatologists and environmental science students regularly come to Venice to study and learn. In the meantime, Venetians continue to work on the less glamorous, but equally important things that historically have made their vulnerable city more resilient; such as restructuring the sewage system, dredging mud from canals, waterproofing the sides of canals and buildings, renovating bridges and fountains, and raising the level of sidewalks.

Canal bridge Venice

In the age of human caused climate change - Venice is a living laboratory.

The city can be viewed as a living laboratory, where projects and technologies are imagined and tested, and hopefully where skills and methodologies will be learned that can help Venice, and other cities develop the flexibility and resilience they’ll need if sea levels continue to rise around the world.

Wondering what you can do to help?

climate change venice sea level rise

The truth is we all have the power to mitigate the effects of climate change. It starts with reducing our personal carbon footprints and then moves on to getting involved in your communities and supporting putting a price on carbon. Looking for ideas at home? Check out the My Plan. Looking for organizations actively working on the issue? Check out our list on non-profits working on climate change.

It’s amazing that we live in a world where our personal action can positively impact historical treasures like Venice. Sure, it will take a lot of us, but it all starts at home and with a commitment to personal action!

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