Infrastructure Past, Present, and Future Casebook/Venetian Flood Control (MOSE)

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This is a case study on the Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico (MOSE), Experimental Electromechanical Module, by Julian Klien, Samuel Gray, Lucas Suter, and De'Elian Paul. As part of the Infrastructure Past, Present and Future: GOVT 490-004 Synthesis Seminar for Policy & Government / CEIE 499-001, Special Topics in Civil Engineering, Fall 2022 capstone course at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government and the Volgenau School of Engineering Sid and Reva Dewberry Department of Civil, Environmental, and Infrastructure Engineering. Modeled after the Transportation Systems Casebook under the instruction of Prof. Jonathan Gifford.

Summary[edit | edit source]

The MOSE (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, Experimental Electromechanical Module) project is an attempt to prevent flooding in the city of Venice, and its surrounding villages, through the installation of 78 mobile gates or barriers which will separate the Venetian Lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. It was also made to resist waves up to 3 meters (9.8 ft) above the normal tide levels. The MOSE has the ability to prevent floods during acqua alta (a period of high-water flooding from October-March in the Adriatic Sea). With barriers at 3 different locations ranging from 20-30 meters in length.

Consorzio Venezia Nuova has been entrusted to carry out the project by the Venice Water Authority. The construction work on the project began in 2003, after much delay it is expected to be ready for use in 2023. When completed, it will safeguard Venice and the villages located within the Venetian Lagoon from flooding, and prevent the further rise of the sea level to protect industries such as tourism, trading, and others.

The MOSE is a major infrastructure project, as it has been tasked with protecting Venice, a city that is important to all of society for its abundance of history. In addition, MOSE battles an increasing problem for coastal cities and settlements across the globe in rising sea levels. If successful the project provides itself as a potential blueprint to help coastal settlements. Despite its significance, it has that has been marred by many complications. Deterrents like corruption, extremely long delays, a ballooning budget, and negative environmental impact have overshadowed the potential good it could do for Venice.

History[edit | edit source]

Early Venetian History

Venice was founded in the fifth century as refugees from Lombard conquests settled on the 118 islands that spread across the Venetian lagoon.1 For the first centuries of its history, the city shifted hands between the Byzantine Empire in the East and the various Frankish kingdoms that at different times ruled Italy in the East. The city’s location between two empires gave it increased political importance, and this combined with a period of political stability beginning in the 9th century led to the formalization of the city as an independent state ruled by an elected Doge in 1032. This election led to centuries of Venetian dominance in Mediterranean trade and gave it its status as a crucial port city.2 The level of water in the lagoon has always been a concern, but historically a lack of water has been a greater concern than any flooding.3

MOSE Becomes the Choice for Venice

Following the 1966 flood, solutions to rising water levels in the city were stalled by political fights for seven years. Finally in 1973, a law was passed opening the government to proposals of ways to save the city from the sea. By 1980 six of these proposals had been accepted under the auspices of Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR), a government science and technology research commission. They transferred authority over the proposals to the Ministry of Public Works later that year, and by 1981 the ministry proposed the setting up of fixed and mobile barriers at inlets into the lagoon to prevent flooding. From 1982 to 1989 the corporation Consorzio Venezia Nuova went through the process of designing a proposal for the project. In 1994, the Higher Council of Public Works approved the project, and following an environmental impact survey, construction began on MOSE in 2003.5 Between the great flood that inspired the project and the breaking of ground for its construction, 37 years had passed.

Environment and Venetian Lagoon[edit | edit source]

Geography and Location

The city of Venice sits in the Venetian lagoon, with the many islands inside the lagoon itself. This environment was created due to the settlement of sediments along the coast, river and sediment runoff, land subsidence, anthropogenic factors, and with the effect of waves and currents from the Adriatic Sea. The lagoon is separated from the sea by three inlets – the Chioggia, Malamocco and Lido. These inlets are also the routes for water, and ships to enter and leave the lagoon.

Modern Issues with the Lagoon

In the modern era, flooding has been far more of a concern than low water level for Venetians. Since 1923, when records on floods in the floating city first began, its squares and buildings have filled with water a number of times. The two most notable incidents of modern Venetian flooding are the great floods of 1966 (still the highest water has ever risen in Venice with 194 cm above sea level) and 2019 (which came within 7 centimeters of the record). It is this modern flooding, exacerbated by climate change, that cause the city to seek a new technological solution to their problems beginning with the 1966 flood.4 

Environmental Causes for the Floods

Several factors must occur for floods to develop in Venice. There are environmental factors mainly within the Venetian lagoon, the Adriatic Sea, and the meteorological phenomena in the Mediterranean Sea and Southern Europe. First, the sirocco winds, hot air winds, coming from northern Africa mix with the cooler air above the Mediterranean Sea.17 These winds then mix cooler winds from Eastern Europe along the Adriatic Sea until they reach the Venetian Lagoon. Second, after the sirocco winds mixed with the cooler winds reach the lagoon, high tides push even more water into the lagoon and “trap” the water from going back into the Adriatic Sea. Third is the settlement of the land itself, which occurs to soil after a prolonged period due to man-made construction. A century ago, the sea level was 27 centimeters (about 10.63 in) lower in the city and lowering by about 1 mm (about 0.04 in) every year.17

Anthropogenic Causes for the Floods

A representation of how the settlers dug and stuck logs into the ground for soil stabilization.

When the settlers first decided to establish themselves in the lagoon, they had to find ways to do it in what were marshes, mud flats, swamps, and soft soil. To accomplish this, the settlers decided to dig in and shove logs into the mud to create a foundation for the buildings19. This was a genius idea at the time. The logs did not rot due to having no contact with oxygen, and instead hardened over time. However, like with any building, settlement occurs, and the foundations start sinking.

MOSE Characteristics and Functionality[edit | edit source]

Objective and Purpose

MOSE is designed to stop floods from occurring in the city of Venice and it can resist waves up to 3 meters (9.8 ft) above the normal tide levels. MOSE is capable of preventing floods during acqua alta (a period of high-water flooding from October-March in the Adriatic Sea). The deployment of MOSE, is a response to water levels above 110 cm (3 ft 7 inches approximately), which can alter daily activities for citizens, tourists and port activities.

Operational Aspects

MOSE consists of 78 mobile barriers, located underwater when not in operation. The barriers are placed at 3 different entrances into the lagoon. Each barrier is 20-30 meters in length (66-98 ft) and 20 meters wide depending on the necessity, the MOSE barriers can be deployed at different times. However, it takes the barriers 30 minutes to be fully raised and 15 minutes to restore the barriers to its resting position

To elevate the barrier's, a decision is made within the control room from the data presented to the operators. Once the decision to raise the barriers is made, compressed air is sent into the barriers driving out the water that once kept the barriers submerged. This causes the barriers to emerge above the surface within 30 minutes. The average inlet closure into the lagoon, is approximately 3-5 hours. To lower the barriers, water is allowed back into the barriers, releasing the air and causing the barriers to submerge back underwater into its resting position within 15 minutes.

MOSE has a safety increment in place, in order to counter unnecessary deployments. This parameter is put in place because it compensates for potential daily tidal forecast mishaps, in accordance with the sea level within the lagoon. As forecasters place a 10 cm parameter upon their predictions, the MOSE system operators are believed to add an additional 10 cm deviation to add more buffer for potential mistakes

MOSE Failures

Due to inaccurate data, MOSE has been bypassed by high-tides as a result of the system operators being given inaccurate information on the incoming weather/water forecasts. Researchers have a belief that the deployment of MOSE could have a negative effect on the sediment deposit located within the lagoon in the future. As the disruption of the natural events occurs, the lagoons ecosystem would suffer as a repercussion. The more MOSE is being utilized; the harbors activities are hindered because of the barrier's denial of entry

When is MOSE expected to be fully operational?

Expected to be fully operational December 2023 after several delays.

Construction[edit | edit source]

Construction on the project began in 2003 under the control of the Consorzio Venezia Nuova, a subset of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transportation.1 Funding for the project came from two main sources. First, the Interministerial Committee for Economic Programming disbursed 3.8 billion of the project’s 7 billion Euro price tag in a series of installments beginning in 2002 and ending in 2011. The remaining funds were provided by the Committee for Policy, Coordination, and Control.2 The project was initially set for completion in 2011. However, delays caused mainly by problems with erosion have continued to push back this date, and it now seems the project will be completed in 2023.3 The repeated delays, corruption issues, and cost increases have generated much controversy around its construction, and the arrest of dozens of government officials. Sections of the project were successfully tested in 2020, however, and it does seem like the project will truly be up and running this year.4

Criticism[edit | edit source]

MOSE is not without its critics. The controversies mentioned above have made many in the Italian public view the project as a waste of time and money, as well as an avenue for government corruption. Additionally, when the project is finally completed, there are many who say it will be more trouble than it is worth. The crucial gates that will be raised to keep rising waters out of the lagoon will also keep water inside, creating concerns about sewage buildup that could kill the region’s ecosystem.

Furthermore, the gates are not activated until water rises higher than 110 cm, 20 cm higher than the level necessary to flood such Venetian landmarks as St. Mark’s Basilica. There are concerns that even when the project is completed, it will not be able to stop the perpetual low-level flooding that could become Venice’s reality by 2100.5 Venetians have expressed their opposition to this project in protests like one that occurred in November of 2019. A memorable image of this protest is demonstrators marching through the highest floodwaters the city had seen in decades as they opposed the only plan the government has had to deal with them since 1982.

Economic impact and Public opinion[edit | edit source]


Picture of a tourist standing by a boat

Since the MOSE won’t be fully operational it wouldn’t be possible to tie an exact number to its economic contributions. Yet, once it is functioning it will be indirectly contributing billions of dollars by protecting the future of industries that are reliant of the coastal area’s physical attributes. One industry that will greatly affected is tourism, an industry, that provides around 2 billion euros to the city. Due to its famous Italian architecture and world renown beauty the city attracts over 20 million visitors annually. If the city continues to sink the tourism industry will be negatively impacted as people won’t be able to walk around and sight-see, spend money at local restaurants, shops, hotels, and other places of business placing a large hit on the city’s profits.

Though, the project has been financially taxing as it once was projected to cost 1.8 billion euros skyrocketed to 5.2 billion euros in 2014.23 The price has again increased in recent times as the total price come out to around 7 billion euros. Lastly, there is speculation that there will be a small increase in cost for port activities as the mobile barriers cause delays in entering and exiting the lagoon.

Social impact

The MOSE project has already begun to receive criticism from the public for its delays, costs, and more infamously corruption. Starting in 2013 there were arrest made on charges of embezzlement, laundering, fraud, and corruption.22 The accused group of 35 people included entrepreneurs, politicians, and bureaucrats.23 Investigations revealed that 25 million euros of illicit funds were channeled through the project. In addition that 1 billion euros have been stolen from the project's funds since the start of construction.

In addition, the public is concerned it won’t properly protect against flooding to preserve the architecture that’s made the entire city and its lagoon a UNESCO heritage site. The MOSE’s existence was partially created was to keep the city from major floods, in order to keep its lucrative tourism industry alive, which has become a problem for the locals of Venice. The city of Venice and its citizens have suffered from over tourism it has contributed to overcrowding, increase of cost of living, and environmental degradation. So, the MOSE protects an industry that negatively affects the local's quality of life. Despite that, it is an attempt to protect the tourism and trade industries that thousands of Venetians rely on for jobs.

Discussion Questions[edit | edit source]

Should the Venetian government abandon funding the MOSE development, as it may bring relief to businesses and protecting the city but could have irreversible damages to the lagoon's ecosystem?​

Should Venice and its citizens start thinking about life after the sea level reaches a height where life is no longer possible in the city?​

Since the entire of city of Venice is a UNESCO World Heritage site, should other countries help fund MOSE to preserve it?​

References[edit | edit source]

1. UNESCO. (n.d.). Venice and its Lagoon. UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

2. Encyclopedia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). History of Venice. Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

3. Public Broadcasting Service. (n.d.). Nova | transcripts | Sinking City of Venice. PBS. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

4. BBC. (2019, November 13). Venice floods: Climate change behind highest tide in 50 years, says mayor. BBC News. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

5. Verdict media limited. Water Technology. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

6. Consorzio Venezia Nuova. MOSE Venezia. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

7. Verdict media limited. Water Technology. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

8. Epic floodgates defend Venice from flooding. Atlas of the Future. (2021, December 3). Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

9. BBC. (2020, July 10). Venice test brings up floodgates for First Time. BBC News. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

10. BBC. (n.d.). Italy's plan to save Venice from sinking. BBC Future. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

11. Protests in Venice against Mose and the mayor. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

12. Vergano, L., Umgiesser, G., & Nunes, P. A. L. D. (2010, May 1). An economic assessment of the impacts of the MOSE barriers on Venice Port Activities. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from

13. Polomé, P., Marzetti, S., & Veen, A. van der. (2005, October 25). Economic and social demands for coastal protection. Coastal Engineering. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from

14. Hardy Paula Guardian News and Media. (2019, April 30). Sinking city: How Venice is managing Europe's worst tourism crisis. The Guardian. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from

15. Eaglescliffe, B. (2018, March 16). Venice, Italy is being destroyed by tourism and flooding. WanderWisdom. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from

16. Warren, K. (n.d.). Disappointing photos show what Venice looks like in real life, from devastating floods to cruise ship accidents. Business Insider. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from

17. Mikhailova, M. (2021). Floods in the Venetian Lagoon and Their Causes. Water Resources, 48(5), 654-665. doi: 10.1134/s0097807821050134

18. Control Room. (n.d.). Retrieved November 4, 2022, from

19. Buckley, Julia (2022). The flood barriers that might save Venice. Retrieved November 4,

20. Venice Holds Back the Adriatic Sea. (2021). Retrieved November 4, 2022, from


22. Olga Chiappinelli, Political corruption in the execution of public contracts, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Volume 179, 2020, Pages 116-140, ISSN 0167-2681, (

23. Porta, D. d., Sberna, S., & Vannucci, A. (2015). Centripetal and Centrifugal Corruption in Post-democratic Italy, Italian Politics, 30(1), 198-217. Retrieved Nov 11, 2022, from