Will Italy End Up Under Water?

© AP Photo / Luca BrunoPeople wade through water in a flooded St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019
People wade through water in a flooded St. Mark's Square in Venice, Italy, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019 - Sputnik International
There seems to be no end to the floods and bad weather in Venice: on 24 November, the water level started rising again. In Italy, there are a lot of areas which suffer from flooding, but losing Venice would mean a loss of the world's cultural heritage

On Sunday morning, the water level reached 130 centimetres.. What are the possible scenarios for Venice?

Sputnik has discussed the situation with engineer Maurizio Ferla from the Department of Protection of Island and Marine Waters at ISPRA (the Higher Institute for Environmental Protection and Research).

Sputnik: What should Venice expect in the coming days?

Maurizio Ferla: It’s not a catastrophic event like we saw last week with the water level reaching 186 cm; the flood is likely to affect a large part of the city.

Sputnik: Projects like MOSE and Arno sicuro, designed for flood protection, are quite expensive, but they haven’t been completed yet. Can we say that they are useless, or are they somehow useful?

Maurizio Ferla: MOSE isn’t completed yet, and, of course, if it had been completed earlier, it would’ve been better (this is an integrated defence system consisting of rows of mobile gateways that isolate the Venetian lagoon from the Adriatic Sea when the tide exceeds a normal level (110 cm) and can reach 3 meters) If it had been in perfect shape last week, last week’s peak tide wouldn’t have been around 190 cm, but 120 cm, which radically changes the situation.

Sputnik: Could Venice end up underwater or are these only speculations?

Maurizio Ferla: This magnificent city has always had a difficult relationship with the sea. According to our observations, over the past hundred years, the water level has increased; and the process has accelerated over the past 20 years. We learned about this thanks to historical data, we should ask experts on climate change about the future situation: the Fifth Assessment Report international group for 2014 forecast the increase in world ocean levels from 30 cm to a whole meter.

Venice is connected with the Mediterranean Sea, which, being connected to the oceans through the Strait of Gibraltar and the Suez Canal, has specific dynamics. Compared with the ocean masses, the Mediterranean Sea is a small body of water. There is no doubt that changes in the oceans will affect Venice, but so far there are few reliable forecasts regarding consequences for the Mediterranean. According to the Euro-Mediterranean Centre for Climate Change, from now until 2050 the level of the Adriatic will increase by at least 10 centimetres.

If we correlate this with the MOSE project, then last week, if it had worked, we would have to close the lagoon six times. If the water level rose another 10 cm, we would have to use it twice as much, about 12 times.

Sputnik: Given the tendency of the sea level to rise, what can be done?

Maurizio Ferla: European and national  officials are working on general strategies for adapting to these phenomena. Coastal areas are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. In the case of Venice it is all very difficult, since it is a matter of defending priceless historic and artistic heritage. I often hear of techniques of raising the ground, but I don’t know how much they are viable; it is still worthwhile to experiment with them gradually.

Sputnik: Apart from Venice, are there other areas in Italy that are at risk for the same reason?

Maurizio Ferla: In Italy, a lot of other areas suffer from the flood problem: almost all Italian territories located on the north coast of the Adriatic Sea, from the Po delta to Trieste. It is a flat area; some territories are even below the sea level, some areas are even 3-4 meters below sea level. The growth of average sea level indicators and the strength of sea storms over the next twenty to thirty years will entail several problems: firstly, [we don’t know] whether the coast guard will be able to cope with the situation, and secondly, it’s not clear whether it will be possible to continue various activities for coastal territory. There is also the problem of adapting to these conditions. This applies to all Italian plains. In Italy, many coastal ecosystems are the ecological heritage that is now under threat.

Sputnik: Speaking of climate change, are you optimistic or do you agree with the most catastrophic projections?

Maurizio Ferla: It is not necessary to be an optimist or a pessimist, it is important to simply accept the facts: science tells us that over the past 100 years the temperature of the atmosphere has overheated. This inevitably led to a number of consequences that we are now observing: the sea level is rising, the number of storms is increasing. This should be taken seriously precisely because we are faced with evidence of these natural phenomena. Therefore, we must face facts and work on creating measures that can be most effectively put into practice.

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