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Venice, Italy a ‘Sinking Situation’



by Sarah Howell

Venice: one of the most picturesque cities on Earth sits on the northeast coast of Italy and brings in roughly 3 million visitors per year. The city has been popular with visitors since the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, where it was a major hub for commerce and trade. But as beautiful and historic as it may be, it comes with a major fault: the gradual sinking of the city into the marshlands.

Venice has been sinking for the past 1,000 years, and every century that goes by, its inhabitants lose another 2.75 inches (or 7 centimeters).Matters were not helped during the 20th century, when the city sunk artesian wells around the perimeter to draw in water for local industries. Shortly thereafter, it was noted that these artesian wells were speeding up the sinking process. The wells were then banned in the 1960s.

There have been recent studies that claim the city is no longer sinking. These claims have yet to be verified, however, and given that the naked eye is witnessing more and more floods per year, there may be little truth to these assertions.

In fact, new research by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California has put a number on how steadily Venice is sinking: up to two millimeters per year (.08 inches).

The season of high tides causes major headaches for inhabitants and tourists alike. Streets become blocked, wooden walkways erected, plazas flooded. And the increasing water damage to the old, historic buildings has given the city’s governors major cause for concern.

But why has this been such an ongoing issue? Humans have put a man on the moon – why can’t we stop (or at least partially prevent) a city from sinking? Unfortunately there will be no resolving this issue until society has banded together to tackle climate change. An increase in global warming causes more rain to fall, which causes more floods, which cause the increase submerging of roadways and plazas. Flooding has been a part of Venice life for as long as its inhabitants can remember, but instead of flooding a few times a year, there are now hundreds of flooding events happening each year. Add on to this the rise in sea level and the increase height of high tides, and there is definitely reason for concern.

But the officials of Venice are not idly sitting by. In 1970, they proposed a plan to install large, mobile gates at the three inlets of the lagoon to raise or lower as needed to keep out high water. Unfortunately thanks to delays, engineering problems, and financial issues, the project was dropped. More recently, in 2003 then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi initiated the MOSE project, an experimental model to evaluate the performance of hollow, floatable gates. This project would affix 78 hollow pontoons across the three entrances, and when tides are predicted to rise above 110 centimeters, the pontoons would fill with air, blocking incoming water from the Adriatic Sea.

While climate change is not the only reason why Venice is sinking, eliminating or even just slowing down the repercussions caused by climate change would help immensely. Such precious architecture and artifacts will only survive a few more generations unless serious and longstanding action is taken.

Image Source: Trish Hartmann

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