Extreme events in Italy from documentary sources: Venice as a case study

D. Camuffo, M. Colacino, S. Enzi, C. Cocheo, E. Pagan, G. Sturaro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Venice risks to be submerged as a consequence of two problems: local land subsidence and sea level rise due to global warming. They both contribute to what is referred as Apparent Sea Level Rise (ASLR). Flooding Tides (locally: Acqua Alta) submerge Venice with an exponentially increasing frequency. The Acqua Alta is generated by a number of factors, the main of them being the Sirocco wind blowing over the Adriatic Sea, that ultimately displaces waters towards Venice. These extreme events have been investigated by using the documentary description of past floods, accurately reported over the last millennium, and tide gauge records for the recent period. A fundamental problem is to know the trend of the ASLR, possibly distinguishing between land subsidence and sea level components. Instrumental data go back to 1872 and a key point is to extend our knowledge back in time. Long-term ASLR has been investigated with the help of a biological indicator, i.e. the height of the green belt of the algae that live in the tidal range and whose upper front shows the average high tide level. Fortunately, in the first half of the 18th century, this indicator was accurately drawn by the famous painter Antonio Canaletto (1697-1768) and his pupils, mainly Bernardo Bellotto (1722-1780), in their photographic paintings made with an optical camera obscura. It has been possible to compare the tidal level, as it was in the 1700s and today. After careful spot investigation and minor corrections for some changes to the hydrological system occurred in the meantime, the bulk submersion of Venice estimated from the paintings is 61 ± 11 cm with average yearly trend 1.9 mm y-1.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-39
Number of pages7
JournalNuovo Cimento della Societa Italiana di Fisica C
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)


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