Venice In Knee-deep Water

Nov 17, 2012 By Deepa Gopal
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Every year between October to mid-December, Venetians have come to expect the Acqua Alta, or high tides. These are not your ordinary high tides, for they submerge many parts of the city in ankle-deep water. This year, Venetians woke up to knee-deep water -- one of the worst flooding in recent decades. 

Where is Venice?

The city known as the Jewel of the Adriatic, and dubbed the 'most beautiful city built by man' is off the eastern coast of Italy. Consisting of 117 small islands, the city is bounded by the Adriatic Sea. With barely any roads, waterways crisscross the city as the main routes of transport.

Venice was founded in 400 A.D by people from the mainland seeking refuge from the savage barbarians who invaded Italy after the fall of the Roman empire. The marshes offered them protection, and isolated the community from the growing power of the church and mainland politics. The Venetians raised a city from mosquito-infested swamps -- a city so powerful that it came to be known as the great Venetian Republic. The settlers traded with empires of the East, and rich merchants flourished -- the most famous among them was the merchant-traveler Marco Polo. 

When the Sirocco Winds blow..

The annual phenomenon of flooding in the city has been happening for centuries. However, global warming has been blamed for the increased water levels in the Adriatic Sea, which makes the flooding more frequent.

So, what exactly causes sea water to enter the lagoons?

High tides as you know are caused by the moon's gravitational pull. When the warm Sirocco winds that originate in the deserts of Africa blow over the Mediterranean Sea towards the Adriatic, they push sea water into the lagoon. The combination of high tides and particularly strong Sirocco winds this year is responsible for the unusual flooding. 

How does Venice plan to protect itself? The Italian government has allocated funds for the construction of movable dikes at the entrances to the lagoon that can be raised temporarily when acqua alta threatens. They were supposed to be finished by 2012, but lack of funding has now delayed finishing the project until 2016. It is hoped that these dikes will solve much of this flooding issue.