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Venetian Flooding: Past Sea Levels Were Feet Higher Under Much Lower CO2 Levels

venice flooding canals

venice flooding canals

Paleoclimate evidence shows there is little to no link between atmospheric CO2 concentration and relative sea level.

Venice, the treasure of Italy, is a city built on a mud swamp. Consequently, in the last 100 years, it has sunk about 25 cm, or 2.5 millimeters per year (Munaretto et al., 2012).

The lagoon city had its worst flooding event ever recorded in 1966 when CO2 concentrations were still about 320 ppm.

Last week Venice flooded again, and, as expected, journalists blamed climate change and rising atmospheric CO2.

However, when we consider sea-level rise rates for Venice averaged 2.6 mm/yr during 1872-1969, but then decelerated to 0.7 mm/yr for 1970-2000 (Munaretto et al., 2012), these trends are the opposite of what would be expected if CO2 emissions were driving sea-level rise.

Pisa’s history provides a sea-level perspective

Italy’s Pisa is famous for its leaning tower.

The city was originally built on the coast of the sea about 13 centuries before the common era (~3,300 years ago). At that time, sea levels were meters higher than they are now despite the low (~270 ppm) CO2 concentrations.

During the Roman Warm Period, Pisa was still close enough to the sea coast (~4 km) to be a busy harbor (Huissen and de Graauw, 2019), accessible by canal.

Dozens of ships dating to Roman times have been found buried beneath the city in recent decades.

In the last 2,000 years, however, sea levels have retreated so thoroughly that Pisa now sits 9.7 km from the sea coast.

Italy’s sea level during the last interglacial

About 130,000 to 120,000 years ago, or during the last interglacial, CO2 levels peaked at 280 ppm.

Yet along the coasts of central Italy, there are marine mollusk shells buried in silty sand and clay 12-35 m above today’s sea levels dating to this time period (Marra et al., 2019).

Image Source: Marra et al., 2019

In sum, the record of coastal changes throughout ancient times and the modern era doesn’t support the conclusion that CO2 levels are a driver of sea-level change.

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