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Panel of Experts Focuses on Saving Venice

Several centuries ago, there was a nation that rose to become a world power on the strength of its innovation and its dedication to capitalist enterprise. This place was Venice, one of the richest places on the Earth a long time ago…,” — Gareth Cook wrote on the Boston Globe one month ago. Centuries later, Venice is still falling, only this time it is not political, but an environmental problem threatening its own existence.

A panel of experts gathered in Cambridge on April 12 to discuss the future of Venice, as the city of canals slowly but steadily sinks deeper into the ground.

Maria Teresa Brotto, engineering department head of Consorzio Venezia Nuova, and Giovanni Cecconi, head of the center for modeling and forecasting systems of Thetis Spa Venezia, explained in a seminar organized by MIT-Italy how a possible defense system could work.

Is it true that Venice is sinking? In a certain sense, yes. The lagoon area has always been vulnerable to land sinkage (subsidence) and variations in sea level (eustacy). So you could say that during the last century, Venice has “sunk” a total of more than 23 centimeters.

This loss of height is the main reason for the greater frequency of high waters. The more frequent floods, along with their greater intensity, places lagoon cities and towns and every building, monument or construction of historical value in a new and considerably more critical situation than in the past.

Brotto and Cecconi explained how MO.S.E. (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico or Electromechanical Experimental Module) was used to perform a series of tests on a life-size prototype of a gate — a sort of fully independent “experimental laboratory” located in an isolated area of the lagoon.

MO.S.E. consisted of the gate module undergoing experimentation inserted into a perimeter structure accommodating a genuine laboratory in four high towers and two containers with control rooms, offices and services. Necessary exclusively to allow experiments to be performed on the single gate, it will be totally absent from the actual defence barrier. In the definitive configuration at the lagoon inlets, there will be no above water structures between the gates and when the barriers are not in operation, they will be completely invisible.

Some fifteen or so years ago, a series of defense strategies and types of structure were designed and proposed to block the tides at the lagoon inlets. These solutions were examined and rejected as they were considered to be ineffective or not valid. The solution adopted, Mose, assessed and chosen by the relevant bodies, is the result of a lengthy process of studies, analyses, experiments, adaptations, recommendations and verifications.

Numerous mathematical analyses and tests on physical models have been carried out. In addition, the system has been developed in collaboration with universities, national and international research centers, specialist institutions and individual experts. Since the decision of the Committee for Policy, Coordination and Control in 2003, the task of the Water Authority has been to implement a precise project, approved with the collaboration of all levels of government.

During recent years, there has been much talk of climate change and a possible major rise in sea level, with a number of alarming hypotheses. In this scenario, we ask ourselves what guarantees MO.S.E, offers. These videos, courtesy of Consorzio Venezia Nuova, explain the project in further detail.

About Emanuele Capoano

Emanuele is a correspondent for the Tuscan magazine LoSchermo.it and is also a theatrical actor. Before coming to Boston to teach Italian, he was a freelance radio journalist in Florence, Italy.