Flooded Piazza San Marco in Venice / Wikipedia

Venice's devastating floods are the 'canary in a coal mine' for coastal cities worldwide

As climate change causes sea levels in Venice — and across the planet — to inch higher, scientists say catastrophic floods could become more severe and more frequent.

For Venetians, water is a way of life. It surrounds the city, ebbing and flowing, and at certain times of the year — usually in the fall — the tide swells, spilling water into the narrow streets and swamping the grand piazzas.

But Alberto Canestrelli, who was born and raised in Venice and spent two years working on flood forecasts for it, said the intense flooding this week in the lagoon city was unlike anything he has seen in his life.

“I’m 39 years old and I’ve never seen this,” said Canestrelli, who works as an assistant professor of environmental engineering at the University of Florida. “I’ve never seen boats destroyed or gondolas stranded on top of the bridge. That was shocking. These things don’t usually happen.”

He’s not the only native Venetian working in climate science who has watched the past week’s events with a mixture of personal pain and professional horror.

With worldwide attention focusing on photos of people trudging through thigh-deep water and gondolas adrift on city streets, carried there by the tide, scientists — particularly those who call Venice home — say what’s happening to the Italian outpost should be a cautionary tale for coastal cities around the world.

“Venice is like a canary in a coal mine,” said Sergio Fagherazzi, a coastal geomorphologist at Boston University, who also grew up in the northern Italian city. “It’s possible to apply the same concept in the U.S., and it’s very relevant now for any low-lying area.”

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