Sunken medieval Italian village may resurface for 1st time since 1994
The city of Venice has put a flood barrier in place to help protect one of Italy’s great tourist attractions.
The fictional city of Atlantis has long stirred a fascination with underwater ruins and the search for submerged cities. Possibly within the next year, Europe will see one of its submerged cities resurface.
Every few decades or so, the submerged 12th-century Italian village Fabbriche di Careggine in the Lucca province of Tuscany breaches the surface of Lake Vagli. The town could resurface once more in 2021, more than 25 years after it last saw the light of day.
The High Middle Aged village was built in 1270 and stood on dry land up until 1946 when its inhabitants were relocated to the nearby town Vagli di Sotto and Fabbriche di Careggine was submerged to build a hydroelectric dam. The Atlantean town has fully surfaced at least four times since then -- in 1958, 1974, 1983 and 1994 -- when the reservoir, managed by the energy company ENEL, was drained for maintenance work on the dam.
The community structures of the town -- including stone homes, a bridge, the San Teodoro church and a cemetery -- were still mostly preserved, even underwater. CNN reports that Lorenza Giorgi, the daughter of a former mayor of the municipality Ilio Domenico Giorgi, wrote on Facebook that the lake could be drained next year.
"Reliable sources say that next year, in 2021, the lake of Vagli will be emptied," she wrote.
The resurfaced town of Fabbriche di Careggine during its emergence in 1994. (Wikimedia Commons/Robyfra1)
Fabbriche di Careggine is not the only city to be claimed by a body of water. Many more natural examples come from the ocean swallowing cities whole, akin to tales of the city of Atlantis.
Cleopatra's Palace sat on Antirhodos, once an island in the eastern harbor of Alexandria, Egypt. It is thought to have succumbed to a tsunami following an undersea earthquake near Crete on July 21, 365 A.D. Current geologists estimate the earthquake had been a magnitude 8 or higher.
French underwater explorer Frank Goddio, at right in blue, and his team aboard a research ship, raise a sphinx with a head believed to depict Cleopatra's father, Ptolemy XII, from the submerged island of Antirhodos off the coast of the port city of Alexandria, Egypt Wednesday, October 28, 1998. The city, housing one of Cleopatra's palaces, was plunged into the sea over 1,600 years ago following a series of earthquakes and tidal waves. (AP Photo/Leila Gorchev)
The island remained untouched for more than 1,200 years until underwater explorations under the supervision of French archeologist Franck Goddio rediscovered the site. Goddio had also been a part of the rediscovering of Thonis-Heracleion, a city that archeologists believe had been hit by a severe flood and succumbed to soil liquefaction, according to The Guardian. The clay soil theoretically liquified in mere moments before the buildings above toppled and collapsed into the sea. The last fragments of the city were fully submerged by the end of the eighth century.
A man looks on an artifact from Thonis-Heracleion, 30th dynasty (380 BC),1st year of reign of Nectanebo I, at the Institut du Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute), part of the Osiris, Sunken Mysteries of Egypt exhibition in Paris, France, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
The Ancient Greeks attributed tsunamis and coastal flooding to a battle over domain between Zeus who lorded over the sky and land, and the ocean deity Poseidon along with one of his sea nymph daughters. For every island that Zeus raised, the ocean would pull millions of grains of sand back into its depths.
Earthquakes seem to be common factors when looking at other submerged cities like Port Royal near Jamaica and Pavlopetri and Olous near Greece. In what is today Great Britain, places like Ravenser Odd and Dunwich were ravaged by large storms. The latter still has areas that remain above water, though it is not a highly populated town.
Today, the United States is seeing a handful of its coastal cities beginning to sink, including New Orleans, Houston, Miami and Virginia Beach. But earthquakes aren't the source of these cities' concerns.
A 2016 NASA study found that parts of New Orleans are sinking at a rate of 2 inches per year, and Virginia Beach is experiencing the fastest rate of sea-level rise on the East Coast, according to The Washington Post. Miami's situation isn't much better.
"Miami as we know it today -- there's virtually no scenario under which you can imagine it existing at the end of the century," Jeff Goodell, author of The Water Will Come: Rising Seas, Sinking Cities, and the Remaking of the Civilized World, told Business Insider.
In this June 19, 2019, file photo, a postal worker returns to a truck parked on a flooded street in Miami caused by high tides. Flooding due to climate change-related sea-level rising, the erosion of natural barriers and long-periods of rain pose substantial economic risks to Florida, particularly its real estate value, according to two reports released in June 2019. (AP Photo/Ellis Rua, File)
Groundwater pumping is contributing to the sinking of some of these cities, but civil engineers are also concerned about rising sea waters threatening these cities.
The sea levels rising isn't a new thing, associate professor in civil engineering at Penn State Ming Xiao told AccuWeather. Just within the past 200 years, the sea level has risen about 8 inches. However, 3 out of the 8 inches have been within the past 25 years, according to Xiao. And this trend, he said, is continuing.
Part of the source of the rising sea level, Xiao said, was the thawing of the permafrost in the Arctic. The permafrost currently stores about 11,600 pounds of carbon -- that's about twice the amount of carbon currently in the atmosphere, according to Xiao.
In this photo taken Oct. 27, 2010, Russian scientists Sergey Zimov and his son Nikita Zimov extract air samples from frozen soil near the town of Chersky in Siberia 6,600 kms (4,000 miles) east of Moscow, Russia. Scientists are studying methane and carbon dioxide locked inside Siberia's frozen soil and under its lakes. Recently, especially in the last five years, the permafrost has been thawing at an accelerated rate bringing physical changes to the landscape. At this experimental site, which was flat seven years ago, the scientists felled trees and scraped off the top layer of soil to hasten the thawing process. Melting ice carved out hillocks and gullies. The thaw also is releasing methane trapped in the frozen ground since the end of the last ice age. Methane is a greenhouse gas 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide and is contributing to global warming. (AP Photo/Arthur Max)
"We know the carbon causes the climate to change, to warm, and the model also predicts that by the end of this century most of the permafrost would have completely thawed," Xiao said.
Melting all of the permafrost alone could raise global sea levels by 1 to 4 inches, the National Snow & Ice Data Center estimated, warning that even this would be enough to possibly force coastal cities to build walls to keep the sea out or force people to move to higher ground.
With the thawing of the permafrost, that means the carbon stored in it would potentially be released into the atmosphere, leading to more heating and, in turn, melting more ice. NASA estimated that if all of the glaciers and ice sheets were to melt, global sea level would rise by more than 195 feet. However, the water doesn't need to rise nearly that much to have a large impact on coastal cities.
"Now once the water rises, then obviously it's going to come ashore, and therefore the water table -- that is the level of the water under the ground -- is going to come higher and that's why even if there's no rain or hurricane, water will come up because of the tidal issues. So the tide will also push the water up," Ali Memari, professor in the Department of agriculture, engineering and Civil and Environmental Engineering at Penn State as well as Head Chair of the residential building construction and director of the Pennsylvania Housing Research Center, told AccuWeather.
In this Sept. 30, 2015, file photo, Louis Fernandez walks along a flooded street in Miami Beach, Fla. The street flooding was in part caused by high tides due to the lunar cycle, according to the National Weather Service. Miami has been referred to as the country's Ground Zero for any climate-related sea-level rise. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
Civil engineers have been remedying rising sea levels through dams, levies and methods such as pumping the excess water out that the ground isn't able to absorb. Memari notes that elements like pavement, such as asphalt and concrete, contribute to the flooding, causing the excess water to overwhelm the draining system.
The land the cities were built on also contribute to how the area reacts to flooding. More than 200 years ago, the land where people would eventually build Miami, New Orleans and Houston on was swampland. To build the cities, people brought in new soil and sand to build over the swampy areas.
"And so what happens is that the ground under it is still wet because it's near the bay. So that means that if the rain comes down, the soil under the city is already wet, so it cannot absorb too much water in a short period of time," Memari said.
So the question emerges: Is keeping these cities above water possible, or will they eventually be pulled under into Poseidon's realm? Memari and Xiao agreed that it was plausible for cities such as Miami, Houston and New Orleans to find themselves beneath the waves within a century. That's still possibly within the lifetime at least of the youngest of Generation Z and members of the following Generation Alpha.
"A city that is getting a lot of hurricanes, a lot of rain and they get flooded because the city is flat -- I guess those are the more important, urgent areas that we need to address them," Memari said. "Cities like Houston, New Orleans where you have all of these levees that broke and that caused a lot of flooding."
In this Sept. 4, 2017, file photo, a vehicle is submerged in floodwater in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. Senior U.S. Judge Charles Lettow in Washington, D.C., ruled Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is liable for damages to a group of Houston-area homes and businesses flooded by two federally owned reservoirs during Hurricane Harvey because the inundation was due to how the federal government built and maintained the dams. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File)
Cities like these, Memari said, can fight the rising water or learn to live with it with engineering solutions over time. Fighting the sea levels would mean building sea walls and levees as well as building homes at higher elevations. Living with the rising sea levels could mean engineering cities, or at least the buildings, to float.
"You just have to be smart and find the best solution to live with this fact of life that, you know, global warming is happening, and somehow we have to survive," Memari said.
Both Memari and Xiao agree that a part of addressing rising sea levels and fighting back the tide is to address the root of the problem.
"As engineers, we like to solve problems," Memari said. "But then, what about the root of the problem and what causes that global warming? That's a much bigger issue, of course that's not just for civil engineers to build your buildings in a safe way. That's a much broader, I think, problem that the entire society should be involved [in solving]. And how do you reduce that global warming? How do you reverse it?"
In this Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019 photo, the sea wall called the Charleston Battery is seen in Charleston, S.C. Charleston and other governments are getting ready to spend around $100 million to raise the sea wall as sea levels rise because of climate change (AP Photo / Jeffrey Collins)
"We're putting bandages on big wounds. So we're trying to respond to the potential catastrophic damages, and what is really important is for the public to realize that," Xiao said.
While climate change is a part of a natural process, and part of Earth's history before the last ice age was warmer than it is today, that was well before humans had emerged, Xiao said.
"We haven't experienced this kind of change," Xiao said. "Even though the Earth before us has been warmer and greener, but we haven't experienced that. So we built cities that are on the coast ... and so we haven't experienced this kind of sea level rise or climate or warming."
In this Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, photo, an unoccupied beachfront home collapses due to beach erosion in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. No one was injured. Several homes along the northeast Florida beaches collapsed during Hurricane Irma in September. (Jamie Johnson/St Johns County Sheriff's Office via AP)
Both mentioned it would take community effort, and Memari also said that it was possible to reduce carbon emissions in engineering as well through using carbon-negative materials.
"It's not just a federal issue or a government issue, it's everybody. So civil engineers need to do something; the general public needs to do something as well," Xiao said.
"Unfortunately, government often does not move on an issue until a disaster occurs, and it might take a major hurricane storm surge to get people to react. It's human nature not to react until you really see the problem first hand," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist and Lead Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said.
However the world proceeds, however the public and today's generations react to the rising sea level, it will determine if American cities will be the next to join stories of Atlantis.
"So do we retreat, do we abandon?" Memari asked, "Or do we stand strong, stand firm on our ground and then fight it and build it?"
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