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Is Venice Sinking?

Venice was built on marshland and has always been slowly sinking.
Gondolas and water taxis are used to transport people in Venice.
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  • Written By: Garry Crystal
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  • Last Modified Date: 12 July 2014
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Venice, Italy, is widely considered to be one of the world's most beautiful cities. It is a city that should be seen with a loved one, and if reports are true, it should be seen before it disappears completely into the surrounding waters. Venice is sinking slowly, but as with most coastal towns and cities, the sea level is also rising.

The city was built on marshlands, a sedimentary island within a lagoon off the coast of Italy. Attila the Hun invaded Italy in 452, forcing many inhabitants to flee to the coast. A small group of islands in the center of a lagoon were collectively called Rivo Alto, or "high bank." The area soon expanded, and Ri'Alto became the center of Venice.

Venice is a warren of canals, which largely take the place of what would be roads in other cities. Gondolas and water taxis transport people to and from destinations. With water levels rising, flooding has become a serious problem and is contributing to Venice sinking. During the high tides in autumn and winter, the Piazza San Marco, the lowest area of the island, becomes totally flooded with water.

When the high tide season arrives, the streets often become blocked. Wooden walkways must be erected in order for pedestrians to walk safely. The high water level is causing damage to Venice and disruption to its inhabitants, and it has now reached the point at which city governors see the problem as critical.

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Venice has always been slowly sinking. Over the last 1,000 years, it has sunk by around 2.75 inches (7 centimeters) for every century, but recent reports have stated that in the last century alone, the city of Venice has lowered by around 9.44 inches (24 cm). This may have more to do with global warming and the melting polar ice caps than with Venice sinking into its own foundations.

Global warming is an issue that is taken very seriously and is a major environmental concern for towns and cities that are coastal or built on islands. Reports have shown that the ice caps are melting at their fastest rate ever, and it is becoming a critical issue. Experts are seriously addressing the issue in order to find a solution to the problem.

The level to which Venice is sinking is now seen as critical. Many theories and concepts are being developed to stop the sinking, and city leaders are now considering investing in huge steel gates to block the floods. The cost of this project is estimated at around 2 or 3 billion euros, and it's not clear that will this enormous price tag be enough to stop the problem.

Many experts say that this solution to stop Venice from sinking can only be short term and will only help stem the floods for the next 20 or 30 years. A long-term solution must be found that includes dealing with the causes of global warming. If not, Venice's sinking may be another chapter in world history.

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Discuss this Article

anon960683
Post 46

This is a terribly written article.

First, the polar ice cap melting doesn't change the sea level, when the ice is floating (which is the case in the north). Secondly, the South Pole has record high levels of ice currently, and where it does have areas of ice breakage and melt, the major cause has been identified is undersea magma activity, warming the waters locally.

Finally, satellite data shows that Venice may no longer be sinking, due to the ban on sinking wells in the city.

Finally, the sinking is quite simply not that big of a deal. It's a "bother,” and certainly, dealing with water has both benefits and difficulties, but certainly not a larger deal than tornadoes, or earthquakes, or tsunamis, or deep freezing storms that cover entire regions in ice.

Most of the water issues in Venice are as simple to solve as wearing cheap rubber overshoes.

If it were a truly pressing issue, Venice wouldn't be the romantic hot spot it has been for a very long time. Could you go to the tsunami hit coast of Japan for a romantic getaway? No. To a city struck by a tornado in the US? No. Those are real problems.

The problems in Venice barely disrupt normal, everyday life. The boots come on, the walkways go up and life bounces along.

I mean, my god people -- sinking for a thousand years. If it were really an issue, the place would have been abandoned a long time ago.

anon957917
Post 44

I can't give exact dates, but around 500 years ago the Doge had the citizens of Venice empty the contents of their dustbins at the edge of the city into the water to stem flooding problems. It seems to have done the trick.

Of course, these days if anyone suggested doing something similar, the environmentalists would roast them over the coals.

anon297943
Post 39

Is the flooded city going to be extinct?

anon275918
Post 37

@anon3493: Your mom will have plenty of time to visit our beautiful city. She will have a blast. Just tell her not to swim in the canals because they aren't exactly sanitary.

anon275917
Post 36

@anon51274: Because, even though global warming has been around since the end of the ice age, Venice is an island with soft earth under it. It is inevitable. I live here and I don't worry about it. It is sinking quite slowly, so it won't sink in my lifetime.

If you need more information, contact someone who studies soil and islands. They will help you more than I can.

anon254897
Post 35

All of the posters above please take note: Global climate change is constantly on the move. Only about 15,000 years ago (there is written data that defines about 5,000 years of civilizations i.e. Sanskrit and the Egyptians) when an ice age ended, due to the earth having warmed up very quickly and the next ice age is on its way! That cycle is unstoppable, especially by mere humans.

So yes, the earth could get a bit warmer or it could get colder quite quickly, especially in the northern hemisphere which is not buffered by the large southern hemisphere oceanic masses.

anon252728
Post 34

This is the first time I've heard of this. I am lucky I don't live there. I live in Pennsylvania.

anon243287
Post 33

Venice should be roughly 2000 metres under sea level in 7012. Everyone has plenty of time!

anon187734
Post 32

The best question posted here: Why was Venice sinking before we caused global warming?

anon142712
Post 31

Nice to see someone else knows about the water removal from the aquifer that lies under Venice.

anon136764
Post 30

Seriously, this is bad.

Venice is one of the most beautiful cities, and hearing the news that it'll sink was like a shock to me!

I came to know this when I was reading Michelle Lovric's "The Undrowned Child."

Some of us say that it's our fault that Venice is sinking, some blame it on global warming. I feel it's a combination of both. Because of our actions, global warming takes place, and hence sinking of Venice, blah blah blah yada yada yada.

I'm not saying global warming is the sole reason why Venice is sinking; it's a factor. That's it. There are other natural reasons why Venice is sinking, so don't keep posting stuff on the Internet "Venice is sinking. Blame it on global warming!"

anon130136
Post 29

People who keep making comments about polar ice caps melting and causing us to lose our cities, one should think about how the earth is 75 percent water - salt water - and the fact that frozen water expands.

With the melting of the ice caps, the volume of that ice will decrease, and would be dispersed evenly around the earth's water surface.

Considering how much water is already on the earth, the contribution of ice caps and icebergs melting would cause only a 6-inch to 1 foot global rise in water level. Which, although it may be detrimental to venice, we will not "lose our cities."

We may lose any cities that are already below the water line, such as New Orleans. But movies such as 'Waterworld' with minimal land after flooded ice caps are purely fiction. Do the math on how much water will rise. It requires several different calculations.

anon86071
Post 28

I am dumbfounded by the absolute nonsensical comments posted by anon3493

Global warming is real, it's a fact and the seasons are 'infected' by it as well.

What part humankind has contributed to global warming is not the issue. When the ice caps melt en masse, many cities will be flooded and lost.

anon81995
Post 26

Most of the sinking of Venice during the 20th century was not caused by global warming, but by the drawing water from the aquifer.

The pressure of the water inside any soil exerts some pressure because of the height of the water. In an artesian aquifer, such as is the case in Venice, the pressure is actually higher than the ground surface at the location.

Most of the compression of the soils occurs by a process called consolidation. This is slow, because it requires water to move out of the soil. You have two main reasons for the soil to consolidate: Increase the load on top of the soil (such as building something on top of it), or removing water pressure from the water inside the soil (such as by pumping ground water for your wells).

In venice what happened is that much waters was being pumped from the ground for industrial purposes in the 20th century. There was a ban on artesian wells put in, I believe in the 1960s, and since then the sinking has been slowing down.

Global warming does have some effect concerning higher tides, however. But it is certainly not the main cause of the sinking of Venice during the 20th century.

anon81990
Post 25

as a reply to post 23: The total melting of the Arctic ice cap would raise the world sea level by a total of 0m, 0ft, 0cm, 0in, 0 mm. It's a sea ice cap, meaning that it is already influencing the sea level.

It's the melting of land glaciers that will affect the sea level and that includes the Greenland glaciers and the Antarctic ice cap, as well as any other land glaciers around the world which are current storage of water that is not impacting the sea level.

anon73877
Post 23

To address "What "reports"? That's pretty vague misinformation you're posting there. There are *no* conclusive reports to suggest that global warming is having any effect on the ice caps melting any faster than they would naturally during this climate cycle, and *no* evidence to suggest the waters are rising on account of this.

If all the polar ice caps suddenly melted the waters of the whole planet would only rise a few feet anyway, so stop blaming everything on global warming!"

I would suggest reading the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report, The Copenhagen Diagnosis, and pretty much any peer-reviewed literature published by government bodies in the US, Australia, UK, Canada and EU. Oh, and by the way, the total melting of both polar ice caps would raise sea levels by about 59.4 metres, not 'a few feet'.

anon60920
Post 22

i too think venice is sinking. Actually, i've been given a project on the death of venice, its reasons, etc., by my college. if i failed to submit it on time, i and my marks too will sink!

anon55464
Post 21

I live a long way from from Venice (or the Maldives). In New Zealand in fact. I was raised near the beach and in my 50 year lifetime I have not seen any evidence of sea levels rising. However "apparent" rising seems to be occurring on our South Islands West Coast. I believe that this is because the South Island is tipping although very slowly.

The earth is four fifths ocean. Also when it gets warmer the air can hold more moisture as humidity. Therefore the warmer it gets the more sea levels ought to drop! Alas I too laugh at puny man's ignorance at nature and scientists who have been captured by money, populist opinion and money. Emissions Trading will just allow the multi-nationals to continue polluting. Wake up people!

anon55230
Post 20

From a non-american, non-political point of view, global warming cannot be proved yet. Technically, the Greenland and Antarctic ice-sheets still exist, which means that we are still in an ice-age, so it may be natural.

However, we are contributing to its melting without a doubt, and so it is also us who are making Venice sink.

It would have happened anyway as it was built on marshland, and is now very densely populated.

anon54675
Post 19

global warming is not the theory the blame, it was the people who built it!

anon54674
Post 18

Contributing factors to Venice sinking: Flooding; old and built on wooden pilings; built on marshlands; (theory) global warming; sinks about 7cm a century for the past 1,000 years.

anon53944
Post 17

parts of Venice flood regularly in high tides. Some in the past have been higher than the present. If sea levels are rising there should be a constant progression of higher tides, unless of course someone is pulling the plug out of the Adriatic now and then.

anon53736
Post 16

Part of the reason Venice is sinking faster is because the supports it was built upon are deteriorating faster. As to sea-level rising -- it has been rising 8 to 12 inches a century and the last 50 years have shown no acceleration.

anon52099
Post 15

Venice has been slowly sinking for centuries, but like the article states it *appears* to be sinking faster in the past century because the oceans are rising vs. Venice compacting it's foundations.

There are numerous articles, reports, papers that can show the amount the world's oceans have risen in the past 50 years. Global climate change is the direct cause of rising oceans due to melting glaciers man-made or not. This is compounding the problems in Venice, but is not the sole cause.

anon51274
Post 13

why was it sinking before global warming?

anon49333
Post 12

"Reports have shown that the ice caps are melting at their fastest rate ever". What "reports"? That's pretty vague misinformation you're posting there. There are *no* conclusive reports to suggest that global warming is having any effect on the ice caps melting any faster than they would naturally during this climate cycle, and *no* evidence to suggest the waters are rising on account of this. If all the polar ice caps suddenly melted the waters of the whole planet would only rise a few feet anyway, so stop blaming everything on global warming!

anon48526
Post 11

Venice is sinking because A. It's centuries old and built on wooden pilings; B. Extraction of the aquifer in the 20th century (which was later banned in the 1960's because it was found that this was a major contributing cause to the sinking of Venice). Don't pollute the internet with your global warming conspiracy theories and claim them as 'fact'. The Earth knows more about our climate than 'man' could ever fathom to destroy. We are not that significant, hate to break it to you.

anon47434
Post 10

venice is sinking because it is natrual.

anon46297
Post 9

venice is sinking because chuck norris wants it to.

anon33070
Post 7

Venice is sinking because the soil and rubble beneath it is collapsing.

anon32840
Post 6

Can someone explain to me simply why venice is sinking and what people are doing to stop it because i have to do a research report on it?

anon31915
Post 5

no. if the world worked like that America would have capsized years ago!

its sinking because the city is built on an alluvial base which is consolidating at a slow pace.

basically the ground under Venice is squashing because it's rubbish soil.

anon29757
Post 4

Isn't Venice sinking because the population is too heavy?

anon3565
Post 2

Well, Anonymous, the article says that Venice lost 24 centimeters in the last 100 years. At that rate, I'd say that it will be available to tourists for the remainder of your mother's life, if not much longer.

anon3493
Post 1

I want my mom to go visit Venice because it's been her dream for a long time. Can you tell me approximately how much longer Venice will last?

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