Scots scientists to help save sinking Venice

Monday 25 February 2002

A group of Scottish scientists are to play a key role in a major £1 million EU-funded programme to prevent Venice from sinking into the sea.

The experts in coastal systems and environmental management from the University of St Andrews have just returned from Venice where the three-year project was officially launched.

The group consists of Professor David Paterson of the School of Biology and head of the Sediment Ecology Research Group (SERG) and Drs Andrew Dawson and Charles Warren of the School of Geography and Geosciences.

The University is one of nine international institutions collaborating on the TIDE (Tidal Inlets Dynamics and Environment) Project which aims to develop a better understanding of tidal areas such as lagoons and estuaries. The consortium consists of the University of Padova, Italy; the University of Venice, the Istituto Veneto di Scienze Lettere ed Arti, the University of Trento, the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, the NERC Environmental System Science Centre, the University of Strasbourg and Toposys Gmbh.

The University will receive £240,000 of the £1m funding package. Professor Paterson’s role in the project will involve him analysing changes in coastal systems using remote sensing techniques and satellite images, with the overall aim of monitoring changes and the health of the systems.

“The SERG group has great experience in the analysis of coastal systems and the ecology of threatened coastal zones. The St Andrews group will support the work of the project by establishing the biological status of coastal zone, the stability of the intertidal systems and determine the rate of system degradation. Plans will be examined to help slow down or halt adverse changes,” said Professor Paterson.

The threat of Venice sinking into its lagoon has well-documented for much of the romantic city’s history but rising sea levels, thought to be caused by global warming, is accelerating the occurrence of floods. Since 1871, official records state that the sea levels in the Venice lagoon have risen by around 2.4mm per year, and around 80 floods occur annually around St Mark’s Square. To counteract the problem of wet feet during floods, the local ice-cream kiosks have taken to selling waterproof boots alongside the more traditional purchase of an ice-cream cone.

There are several objectives of the TIDE project: to develop models of the evolution of tidal forms; to develop techniques for observing landforms and ecosystems through remote sensing and ‘ground truthing’; to evaluate societal awareness of the importance of tidal environments, and to construct an internet database of observations and models of tidal environments.

The project will develop models of the evolution of tidal systems using observations of three study sites, all of which have European and global environmental and cultural relevance – the Venice lagoon, Morcambe Bay and the Forth Estuary.

The work will help in the planning and execution of coastal preservation activities such as the construction of new mudflat and salt marsh areas and the preservation of exiting marshes by the addition of fresh sediment. The City of Venice may also be protected by large tidal barriers which will also influence the intertidal region.

While Professor Paterson’s role will involve him, at a practical level, looking at the physical workings of the coastal systems, Andrew Dawson and Charles Warren of the School of Geography and Geosciences will examine the social dimensions of managing these systems, society’s awareness of their importance and the impacts of Government policies.

Focusing on the Forth Estuary, an area with a strong history of industrial development and demographic pressure, they will study the land-use effects of public access and tourism on inter- tidal areas, in particular tourist access (and restriction) and management. The estuary is of international importance in terms of wading bird populations but has problems of degenerating coastline and loss of marsh vegetation due to factors such as pollution and rising sea level. They will focus on the socio-economic dimensions of these problems, examining the ‘downstream’ impacts of conservation and land use policies on coastal systems. Chief amongst these will be the influence of farming on water quality (notably through nitrate pollution). Their research will explore the ways in which conservation policies are perceived by land managers and the general public, and the values which local people attach to ‘their’ coastline.

The University was approached by Dr Marco Marani of the University of Padova, Italy, who is co- ordinator of the TIDE project.

Dr Marani said: “We approached Professor Paterson and his team because the TIDE project is based on a holistic view on the study of tidal systems in order to understand and model the evolution of their living and non-living components. The overlap between biology, morphology and hydrodynamics is very strong in tidal systems and we were eager to tap into Professor Paterson’s internationally-renowned expertise and experience in the study of tidal microbial ecology to make the TIDE project a truly innovative scientific effort.”

Further information is available on TIDE’s official website:



Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews (Gayle Cook) Contact Claire Grainger on 01334 462529 for more information Ref: sinking venice pr 250202 View the latest University news at

Category Research

Related topics

Share this story