Why is Venice sinking?


Venice, the famous Italian city built on water, is facing a grave threat – it is sinking. Over the years, the city has been gradually sinking into the Adriatic Sea, causing concerns among locals and experts alike. This article aims to delve into the reasons behind the sinking of Venice and explore the various factors contributing to this alarming phenomenon.

The Geological Factors

Venice is situated on a group of 118 small islands that are separated by canals and linked by bridges. The city is built on top of a lagoon, which is a shallow body of saltwater. The unique geography of Venice plays a significant role in its gradual sinking.

1. Subsidence

The first major factor contributing to the sinking of Venice is subsidence. Subsidence refers to the gradual sinking of land due to various geological processes. In the case of Venice, the land is sinking at an alarming rate of about 1-2 millimeters per year. This sinking is primarily caused by the natural compaction of the sediments underlying the city.

The weight of the buildings and infrastructure on top of these sediments compresses them, causing them to sink further. Additionally, the extraction of groundwater from underground aquifers has accelerated the subsidence process. The removal of water from the aquifers causes the sediments to compact even more, resulting in further sinking.

2. Soft Soil

The second geological factor exacerbating the sinking of Venice is the presence of soft soil. The city is built on layers of clay and silt, which are easily compressed and prone to sinking. The soft soil amplifies the effects of subsidence, making Venice more susceptible to sinking than other coastal cities.

Moreover, the accumulation of sediment in the lagoon over centuries has caused the city’s foundations to become increasingly unstable. The weight of the buildings and constant human activity further contribute to the sinking process.

Human Intervention

While geological factors play a significant role in the sinking of Venice, human intervention has also contributed to this alarming phenomenon. Various human activities have had a detrimental impact on the city’s stability.

1. Groundwater Extraction

One of the primary human-induced factors accelerating the sinking of Venice is excessive groundwater extraction. Historically, the residents of Venice heavily relied on groundwater as their primary source of drinking water. However, the extraction of groundwater has caused the underlying sediments to compact, exacerbating subsidence.

In recent years, efforts have been made to reduce groundwater extraction and promote alternative water sources. Despite these measures, the damage caused by decades of excessive groundwater extraction is already evident.

2. Construction and Urbanization

The extensive construction and urbanization in Venice have also contributed to its sinking. The weight of the buildings, roads, and infrastructure puts additional pressure on the already sinking sediments, further accelerating the subsidence process.

Furthermore, the construction of large-scale projects, such as the MOSE flood barrier system, has had unintended consequences. The extraction of large quantities of clay from the lagoon for the construction of the barrier has destabilized the lagoon’s delicate ecosystem and compromised the city’s stability.

Climate Change and Rising Sea Levels

Climate change and rising sea levels pose a significant threat to Venice. The city is situated in a lagoon that is directly connected to the Adriatic Sea, which makes it vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

1. Sea Level Rise

The rising sea levels caused by climate change are a significant factor contributing to the sinking of Venice. As the sea levels rise, the lagoon’s water level also increases. The increased water level puts additional pressure on the city’s foundations, exacerbating the sinking process.

According to studies, the sea levels in the Adriatic Sea have risen by approximately 10-20 centimeters over the past century. This rise, combined with the natural sinking of Venice, poses a severe threat to the city’s future.

2. Increased Flooding

Climate change has also resulted in increased flooding events in Venice. The combination of rising sea levels and intense rainfall events has led to more frequent and severe flooding, known as “aqua alta.”

During these high tides, the already sinking city becomes even more vulnerable to water damage. The flooding not only damages buildings and infrastructure but also accelerates the erosion of the already fragile foundations.


1. Can Venice be saved from sinking?

Venice’s sinking cannot be completely halted, but measures can be taken to mitigate the effects. The city has implemented various engineering projects, such as the MOSE flood barrier system, to protect against flooding. Additionally, efforts are being made to reduce groundwater extraction and promote sustainable water management practices.

2. How much has Venice sunk over the years?

Venice has sunk approximately 30 centimeters over the past century. The sinking is an ongoing process, with the city sinking at a rate of about 1-2 millimeters per year.

3. Will Venice eventually disappear underwater?

While the sinking of Venice poses significant challenges, it is unlikely that the city will disappear underwater in the near future. With the implementation of proper measures and sustainable practices, it is possible to protect the city and its unique cultural heritage.

4. Can the sinking of Venice be reversed?

Reversing the sinking of Venice is a complex task that requires a multidisciplinary approach. It would involve addressing the geological factors, reducing human intervention, and combating the impacts of climate change. However, complete reversal is highly unlikely due to the irreversible damage already caused.

5. Are there any health risks associated with Venice’s sinking?

The sinking of Venice does not pose immediate health risks to its residents and visitors. However, the increased flooding and water damage can lead to the growth of mold and other potential health hazards if not properly addressed.

6. How do the residents of Venice cope with the sinking?

The residents of Venice have adapted to the sinking by implementing various measures. They have raised the ground floors of their buildings, installed flood barriers, and developed a culture of living with water. Additionally, the city continues to invest in infrastructure projects to protect against flooding.

7. Can tourism contribute to the sinking of Venice?

Tourism itself does not directly contribute to the sinking of Venice. However, the influx of tourists and their activities, such as the passage of large cruise ships, can put additional strain on the city’s fragile foundations. Sustainable tourism practices and responsible visitor behavior are crucial to minimize any negative impacts.

8. Are there any alternative solutions to save Venice?

Various alternative solutions have been proposed to save Venice. These include the creation of mobile barriers that can be deployed during high tides, restoring wetlands and natural buffers, and implementing sustainable urban planning practices. However, the effectiveness and feasibility of these solutions need further evaluation.

9. What are the economic implications of Venice sinking?

The sinking of Venice has significant economic implications. The city heavily relies on tourism, and any damage caused by flooding and sinking can impact the tourism industry. Moreover, the cost of implementing infrastructure projects and preventive measures is substantial.

10. What can be done to raise awareness about Venice sinking?

Raising awareness about the sinking of Venice is crucial to garner support and action. Educational campaigns, documentaries, and international conferences can help inform the public and policymakers about the severity of the issue. The involvement of local communities and organizations is vital in spreading awareness.


Venice’s sinking is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive understanding of geological, human, and environmental factors. While the sinking cannot be completely halted, efforts can be made to mitigate its effects and protect the city’s cultural heritage. Sustainable practices, responsible tourism, and international cooperation are essential in safeguarding the future of Venice.

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