Venice is slowly sinking into the sea – but smart engineering, and a healthy dose of technology, will keep this would-be modern Atlantis above the waves.
In a joint effort by the Italian Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, the Venice Water Authority, and local engineering firms, construction has begun on 78 large gates in temporarily drained portions of the city’s three inlets. Named the MOSE project, the effort was first inspired by the city wide flooding of 1966, and gained momentum as water levels continue rising and soil erosion becomes more of a problem. MOSE is an acronym for Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, or in English, Experimental Electromechanical Module, but some say it is also in connection with the figure of Moses, famous for his fabled parting of the Red Sea.
During low tides, the gates would lay flat beneath the surface of the lagoon. "Normally, the barriers [will be] full of water and rest on the sea bed," states the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, the group of leading Italian construction companies responsible for the project. "When flooding is forecast, compressed air [will be] pumped into the gates, emptying them of water and causing them to rise up and emerge, blocking the tide as it enters the lagoon. When the tide drops, the gates [will be] filled with water again and return to their housing.”
Additional aspects of the project include reinforcing coastal areas and raising the quaysides. The project is estimated at $6.7 billion, and plans to be operational by 2014. “Thanks to its operational flexibility, the MOSE [will be able to] cope with floods in various ways — by simultaneously closing all three inlets during an exceptional event, by closing one inlet at a time, or partially closing each inlet (the gates are independent) during medium to high tides."
City planners hope the gates will put a stop to the onslaught of flood waters that submerge portions of the city up to five times a year. A more controversial benefit purported by the project is the preservation of coastal habitats, while some conservancy groups claim the barriers will disrupt the delicate ecosystems of the lagoon. For the human occupants, though, the MOSE project promises to keep the Adriatic where it belongs – out of the city streets.