Sustainability Climate Change

An expert explains how rising sea levels could result in Venice falling into the sea

Photo of the flood in front of Saint Mark's Basilica in Venice, Italy
A general view shows flooded St. Mark’s square, St. Mark’s Basilica and the Bell Tower after an exceptional overnight “Alta Acqua” high tide water level, early on November 13, 2019 in Venice. Powerful rainstorms hit Italy on November 12, with the worst affected areas in the south and Venice, where there was widespread flooding.  MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP via Getty Images

Story at a glance

  • Venice has had 166 high water instances within the last two decades.
  • By 2100, sea level rise could increase by up to 3 feet, according to a report by the European Geosciences Union.
  • Salt water is degrading Venice’s buildings, weakening foundations and creating the risk of structural failures.

The mean water level in Venice, Italy has reached a dangerous high that could threaten the historic city’s buildings and even its very existence. 

Venice has been experiencing record rising sea levels and within the last two decades, the Italian city has had 163 “high water” instances, created by tides, winds and lunar cycles, according to Bloomberg. During the previous 100 years, the city had 166 high water moments. The rapid rise of sea levels is highlighted in a report by the European Geosciences Union, which predicts that by 2100 water levels could increase by up to 3 feet. 

“We are living with flooding that has become increasingly frequent, so my concern is that people haven’t really realized we are in a climate crisis. We are already living it now. It is not a question of plans to deal with it in the future. We need to have solutions ready for today,” said Jane Da Mosto, executive director of We Are Here Venice, to Bloomberg.

In 2019, the city of Venice was under a state of emergency due to unusually high tides that submerged popular tourist destinations under six feet of water. Luigi Brugnaro, the mayor of Venice, tweeted that the city was, “on its knees,” and that the entire city suffered serious damage.


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After that historic flood, Italy’s government created the Mose system, a series of mobile barriers that can protect multiple inlets from coastal flooding. Mose was successfully deployed last year, as Venice was expecting tide waters up to 4 feet. Burgnaro again tweeted, “everything is dry here!” 

However, Venice’s problems go beyond coastal flooding. Mario Piana, a professor of architectural conservation at the Iuav University of Venice, explained in The Art Newspaper that rising sea levels are also causing Venice’s buildings to weaken, the foundation slowly being degraded as water evaporates, leading to abnormal concentrations of salt that dissolve and recrystallize over and over again, attacking the lower walls of buildings. 

Piana suggested that rising sea level damage can be contained and even eliminated if the brickwork in buildings are replaced or go through a process of desalination, a washing technique that strips away mineral compounds from salt water. 

However, even Piana’s suggestions are not fool-proof. He acknowledged that a global rise in seal levels and Earth’s warming temperature could reduce the benefits of any damage control Venice tries.


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