Tuesday’s record tide was the first real stress test for Venice flood barrier inaugurated in 2020 after decades of delays. But experts warn that sea level rise remains an imminent threat for the low-lying Italian city.

The tide in Venice reached 170cm (5.58 feet) on Tuesday, raising concerns over the potential flooding of large areas of the lagoon city. However, the Experimental Electromechanical Module (Mose), Venice’s protection system against floods, which was activated overnight, managed to keep it dry.

Venice flood barrier, a multi-billion-euro project built to protect the low-lying and thus vulnerable city from rising sea levels, was first panned in 1984 but only inaugurated in July 2020, following decades of multiple cost overruns and corruption scandals. It is formed by four defence barriers respectively composed of 21 flood gates rising from the Venetian lagoon floor that can protect the city from tides of up to 3 metres.

Venice is an incredibly unique city, built atop around 120 islands and renowned worldwide for its 177 majestic canals and 391 bridges. However, being surrounded by sea, the beloved tourist destination is also incredibly vulnerable to floods – experts fear it could completely disappear beneath the water by the end of the current century, as a worst-case scenario of a 4C global temperature rise would result in 1.8 metres (5.9 feet) of relative sea level rise. Even at the current rate of global warming, sea levels in Venice are expected to rise by 32cm (13in) by 2100. 

In November 2019, Venice was hit by one of its worst flooding events in almost 100 years, when a tide of 187cm (6.1 ft) submerged more than 80% of the city, leading the government to declare a state of emergency and resulting in damages for about €1 billion (US$1.04 billion). 

Despite finally having a protection mechanism in place, the city needs more radical action to prepare for the inevitable rise of sea levels expected in the coming years. 

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