Engineers explore new project to save Venice from sinking

A group of engineers and geology experts said Monday they are considering injecting sea water under &to=' target=_blank>Venice to raise the waterlogged Italian city 30 centimeters (12 inches) and rescue it from the tides and floods that bedevil it.

"The main advantage of this project is that it would allow Venice to regain ... nearly the same amount of centimeters (inches) by which it sank over the last 300 years," said Giuseppe Gambolati, the head of the project.

The Ђ100-million (US$117-million) project entails digging 12 holes with a 30-centimeter (12-inch) diameter within a 10-kilometer (6-mile) area around the city of Venice, and to pump sea water into the ground at a depth of 700 meters (766 yards), said Gambolati, an engineer and professor at the University of Padua.

The sea water is expected to make the sand that lies underneath expand, which combined with a topping of waterproof clay would eventually push up the soil, Gambolati said.

Gambolati said the experts were first planning to test the project on small area.

"If the pilot-project proves successful, we will see an immediate benefit, even though gradual, while the complete elevation will be achieved in around 10 years," he said.

The project is still in its initial phase and it will have to be discussed and evaluated by various city, regional and state commissions before being approved.

The final version would be in addition to a much-publicized plan, known as "Moses," to build a flood barrier to ease the effect of high tides.

However, Gambolati's plan has its critics, including Michele Jamiolkowski, a professor of geotechnic engineering at the Turin Polytechnic, who warned the project requires years of research and millions of euros (dollars) before it can even come close to reality.

"We are really in the area of science-fiction," said Jamiolkowski, who also chaired the committee that oversaw the project to stabilize the Leaning Tower of Pisa. "This project is not something very realistic."

Jamiolkowski, who was asked for an independent evaluation by a group linked to the municipality of Venice, said such a plan would probably only raise the city by about 15 centimeters (6 inches) rather than 30, thereby providing little respite from the rising tides. It also could cause parts of Venice to raise unevenly, "and this is absolutely unacceptable for buildings, especially historical buildings," he said.

Venice is threatened by water on several fronts. The city is sinking while the level of the &to=' target=_blank>Adriatic sea is rising and high tides are becoming more frequent, flooding into famed St. Mark's Square and prompting officials to set up raised plank walkways.

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