Saturday, September 19, 2009

Billion-dollar floodgates might not save Venice

Sylvia Poggioli on National Public Radio: The construction of mobile floodgates aims to safeguard the 1,300-year-old island city of Venice. It's an ambitious engineering project, but some scientists say it may not be sufficient to protect Venice from rising sea levels due to climate change.

…Sophisticated technology is now being used for what has become a full-scale emergency. At one of the three inlets that lead from the sea into the lagoon, a massive mechanical hammer is driving a steel and concrete piling into the lagoon bed. Elena Zambardi works for the consortium safeguarding Venice and says the use of pilings was invented by the visionaries who founded the city 1,300 years ago.

…The project acronym is MOSE, which is also the Italian word for Moses, recalling the biblical parting of the sea. Once completed in 2014, there will be 78 large, mobile flood gates at the three inlets. When not in use, they will sit on the lagoon bed. When a high tide is forecast, Zambardi says, the gates will rise and shut off the sea from the lagoon.

But the project, which is 54 percent completed, has been hounded by controversy and, critics say, may already be outdated. The IPCC — the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — has forecast a sea level rise by the end of this century of between 18 and 59 centimeters. But scientists caution it could be even higher….

Paolo da Reggio has generously released into the public domain this shot of high water in Venice in 2005

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