Venice was higher and sea level lower in the past, but the city has been suffering “acqua alta” flooding for more than a thousand years. This painting by Vincenzo Chilone shows the Piazza San Marco in early December, 1825
Recent news reports told of the disastrous flooding of Venice, Italy, where high tides brought water levels close to the record high of 1966. Damage is pegged at more than $1 billion, and is predictably blamed by the city’s mayor on “climate change.”
Climate is naturally ever-changing, of course, but nature can’t pay for damages. So what the mayor is really saying is that humans are responsible. Does reality support that claim?
Tide gauges around the Adriatic show sea level rising at a constant rate (not accelerating) from 1875 through 2018. Venice has been sinking into its lagoon for more than a millennium.
During the 20th century, sea level at Venice rose about 4.3 inches while Venice sank about 4.7 inches.
Sea level will continue its slow rise regardless of the outcome of climate conferences, and Venice will continue sinking in spite of efforts to stop it.
In 1987, the Italian government initiated a flood gate project to protect Venice from high tides. It was supposed to be finished by now, but thanks to corruption, cost overruns, and delays typical of infrastructure projects in Italy and California, it may not be operational before 2022.
Human-caused climate change is clearly not the cause of the recent disaster.
The sinking of Venice is not going to stop. The Adriatic tectonic plate is being subsumed under the European plate, and whatever is left of Venice will eventually be recycled in the Earth’s mantle.
The tectonic sinking isn’t uniform. Venice is slowly tilting toward the east. It may someday become a tourist attraction vying with the famous tower in Pisa, perhaps to be called “The Leaning City of Venice.”
Let’s hope the whole thing doesn’t slide into the lagoon.