• Lizzie is Science's Latin America correspondent, based in Mexico City.

ScienceShot: Can We Save Venice?

26 September 2013 9:00 am

Luigi Tosi and colleagues

You may have heard that Venice, Italy, is sinking—but it turns out the story is more complicated. Researchers have combined data from two different kinds of satellites to create a new map of Venice that shows, down to the 50-meter scale, which parts of the city are sinking and which are actually rising. What’s more, they’re able to differentiate between changes caused by humans and the unavoidable effects of Mother Nature, they report online today in Scientific Reports. In the map above, the red squares indicate places where human activity, including the settling of old buildings and even heavy boat traffic in the canals, is causing city blocks to sink. The green squares, meanwhile, show areas where humans have managed to prop their city back up through restoration efforts … at least for now. Natural movement of the marshy land beneath the city still causes the historic center to sink by an average of 1 millimeter per year. Combined with rising sea levels, scientists estimate that Venice could sink another 53 centimeters by 2100, leading to at least a fivefold increase in the “acqua alta” events that routinely flood downtown.

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