VENICE –Venice and its lagoon have just experienced an unusually different Christmas and New Year’s that can’t be ignored.
The city of doges and its islands, as well as nearby Chioggia, have for some time coexisted with a sea that periodically submerges the lower lying areas. Now however, even the most philosophical Venetians seem concerned.
Due to its planning peculiarity and its inestimable artistic heritage, Venice is universally considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world and listed among the UNESCO World Heritage sites. Climate change is now placing the city’s future at risk.
For tourists splashing around in the flooded alleys and squares, and filling their digital cameras with unusual images, is a childish and unrepeatable amusement. For those who live there, it is easy to put on rubber boots and waterproof clothing to walk in single file on the walkways. However, when the tides rise excessively one needs boots up to one’s knees, and if the water rises more, the boots must cover the thighs. Shopkeepers, warned by sirens, move their goods to higher shelves, but when the level rises more damage is unavoidable. Recently this has happened far too often even for the very patient Venetians.
Even during the days of the Copenhagen summit, Venice was underwater, but no one even mentioned it. During those days, and later, a series of exceptionally high tides, not seen for many years, flooded the city on the lagoon.
It is not only the repetition of these exceptional events that alarms a usually very prudent personality such as the Director of the Tide Centre for the Municipality of Venice, Paolo Canestrelli, probably one of the world’s greatest experts on this subject, it is the extreme frequency of these high tides that worries him in addition to the phenomenon of rising sea levels.
According to his data, in 2009 the number of tides measuring about 80 cm (about 31.5 inches) reached a record number. To make things clearer, Piazza San Marco has already been flooded 125 times (80 cm of water are sufficient to cover most of the square while 85 cm cover it completely). In 2002, another record year, the square was flooded 111 times, in 1966 it was underwater 66 times. Furthermore, the average level of the Adriatic Sea has risen by 3 CM in the course of the last decade, which in Venice, in the Northern Adriatic, means three times as much. 2009 was a record year for 90 CM tides (58 times), 100 CM (32 times), 110 CM (16 times), 120 CM (6 times), 130 cm (4 times), and 140 cm. (twice).
If until ten years ago the Venetian situation could still be considered as a particular and different case. Today it has become obvious that the Venice emergency is a sensationally tangible symptom of dramatic global climate change.
The city and the lagoon will in future years be protected by the system of mobile dams built in the lagoon’s three mouths, the so-called EEM (Experimental Electromechanical Module). Sixty percent of building is now complete. When it starts operating there is the risk that this increase in high tides will oblige the EMS to closed often and possibly even permanently. Should that occur, additional hydraulic work will be needed to allow the water in the lagoon to be changed, to avoid it becoming an unhealthy swamp.