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Could Venice  Disappear?

There are so many curiosities about Italy’s northeastern city: Is Venice sinking? When will it disappear forever? Why is it always flooding? The problem Venice faces is complex; these questions cannot be easily answered as no one really knows what the power of flooding will do to Venice. But thanks to global climate change, sea level is rising, and if nothing is done to stop the intruding sea, yes Venice could disappear.

flickr | Roberto TrombettaFlooding is nothing new to Venice; it’s almost a way of life for the Venetians. The island has been battling flooding since the fifth century, mostly owed to the Acqua Alta tidal regime and the geographical location of Venice. The Acqua Alta is essentially tidal peaks 90cm above normal tidal height, which occur in the northern Adriatic Sea; once the peaks reach their maximum in the Venetian Lagoon, they cause periodic flooding between autumn and spring. These astronomical tides are driven by prevailing winds, known as the Scirocco winds; they have a tendency to blow into the shallow Adriatic Sea, consequently forcing water into the Venetian Lagoon.

Until recently, the Acqua Alta wasn’t a call for alarm and only a mild nuisance where the canal sidewalks and St. Mark’s Square were filled with water. However, today is a wakeup call that water is winning the battle between land and sea. Global climate change is almost exacerbating the astronomical tidal regime, making high tide that little bit higher. The frequency of flooding has increased from 10 times a year to more than 60 in the last Century, implying a bigger threat as ice caps melt!

flickr | KimExtreme cases

October 2017 was a terrible time for Venice to say the least. The Acqua Alta reached a maximum height of 135cm where the famous Piazza San Marco was unfortunately inundated by 40cm, causing catastrophic ‘chaos’ to local businesses in the square, leaving no choice but to close during the high tide duration. This was the worst Acqua Alta since 1966, leaving much concern as to whether climate change and consequent sea level rise is making the Acqua Alta more extreme each winter.

flickr | Roberto TrombettaAs mentioned, Venice’s worst Acqua Alta was in 1966; high tide reached a record breaking 194cm, almost covering the entire city! In fact, Venice nearly disappeared on this occasion, and caused a lot of damage in the historical centre and lagoon islands. This tidal catastrophe left Venice completely changed; pictures almost resemble that of a developing country, with no electricity or clean water, whilst UNESCO launched an appeal for international aid to help Venice recover. It is almost positive that this scale event did not occur for another 50 years, but a problem we could foresee with climate change is an event like this happening more frequently.

flickr | Monet WahlrabClimate change

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that Venice could be underwater within a Century if acceleration of ‘global warming’ continues with no new flood defense system in place. Some scientists are already pretty much certain that Venice will in uninhabitable by 2100. Although a severe event such as that of 1966 is not frequent for Venice, there has however been in an increase of flooding event since the 1900s; St Mark’s Square during this time was flooded around 10 times a year, nowadays this figure is close to 100. In this same period, Venice has sunk by 20cm. Without a doubt, it’s only going to get worse!

So, to answer the question ‘Could Venice disappear?’ It is likely that there will be more severe episodes of the Acqua Alta, to the extent that flooding could cause a lot more areas around the city to flood. The capacity for Venice to be completely underwater by 2100 is still hard to say with certainty. Unfortunately, it will depend on the scope climate change will have in the Adriatic Sea levels.

By Sophia-Harri Nicholaou - Online Journalism Intern

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