The Dialog: How can we Shield Venice from Flooding and Sea Stage 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.

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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.

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