Advancing public understanding of sea level rise MIT News

Museum exhibitions can be a unique way to communicate science concepts and information. Most recently, MIT faculty has served as the sounding board for curators at the Science Museum, Boston, a close neighbor of the MIT campus.

In January, Professor Emerita Paola Malnotte-Rizzoli and Cecil and Ida Green, Professor Raffaele Ferrari from the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS), visited the museum’s newly opened pilot exhibit, “Resilient Venice: Adapting to Climate Change”. visited. ,

When Malnot-Rizzoli was asked to contribute her expertise to efforts in Venice, Italy to reduce flood damage, she was ready to offer her knowledge. “I love Venice. It’s fun to tell people about all the challenges you see in the lagoon … how much needs to be done to preserve not only the city, but the environment, the islands and the buildings,” he says.

The installation is the second Museum of Science exhibition to be developed in recent years in consultation with EAPS scientists. In December 2020, “Arctic Adventure: Exploring with Technology” opened with the help of Cecil and Ida Green Career Development Professor Brent Minchev., who provided their expertise in geophysics and glacial science to the project. But for Malanotte-Rizzoli, the new performance is a little closer to home.

“My house is there,” Malanot-Rizzoli gestured enthusiastically at the exhibition’s aerial view of Venice, which includes a view over St. Mark’s Square and some of the surrounding city.

“Resilient Venice” focuses on the hometown of Melanot-Rizzoli, a city known for flooding. Built on a group of islands in the Venetian Lagoon, Venice has always experienced flooding, but climate change has brought unprecedented tidal levels, causing billions of dollars in damage and even killing two people in the 2019 floods. There has also been death.

The dark exhibition hall is lined with immersive images created by Iconem, a startup whose mission is the digital conservation of endangered World Heritage sites. The firm took detailed 3D scans and pictures of Venice to put the display and video together.

The video on which Malanot-Rizzoli pointed to his home shows a possible 2100 sea level rise if action is not taken. It shows the entrance to St. Mark’s Basilica completely submerged in water; She compares it to the disaster film “The Day After Tomorrow”.

MOSE system

Between criticisms of the choice of music (“It’s not very Venetian inspired,” joked Ferrari, who is also Italian) and bits of conversation in Italian, the two scientists do what scientists do: discuss technicalities. Do it.

Ferrari pointed to a model of the gate system and asked Malanot-Rizzoli if the hydraulic jump seen in the model existed in the MOSE system; He confirmed it was not.

It is part of the exhibition on which Malanot-Rizzoli was consulted. One of the plans Venice has implemented to address the flooding is the MOSE system – abbreviated to Modulo Spiritualle Eltromechanico, or Experimental Electromechanical Module. MOSE is a system of flood barriers designed to protect the city from extremely high tides. Construction began in 2003, and its first successful operation took place on October 3, 2020, when it prevented tides from flooding the city 53 inches above normal.

Barriers are made up of a series of gates, each 66–98 feet long and 66 feet wide, that sit in chambers built into the ocean floor when boats and wildlife are not allowed to travel between the sea and the lagoon. She goes. The gates are filled with water to keep them submerged; When activated, air is pumped into them, pushing the water out and allowing them to rise. The entire process takes 30 minutes to complete, and half the time it takes to return to sea level.

In MOSE the tops of the gates come completely out of the water and are individually controlled so that the sections remain open to allow ships to pass through. In the model, the gate remains partially submerged, and as high-velocity water passes over it into an area of ​​low velocity, it creates a small rise of water before it collapses to the edge of the barrier. , causing a hydraulic jump.

But Malanotte-Rizzoli joked that only scientists would care; Otherwise, the model does a good job of showing how MOSE gates rise and fall.

The MOSE system is one of several plans in Venice to reduce rising water levels and protect the lagoon and surrounding area, and is a key point for Malnotte-Rizzoli, who worked on the project from 1995 to 2013. did.

“It’s MOSE or not,” she insisted. “This is Moses and.” Along with economic sectors such as shipping and tourism, other complementary schemes have been implemented to reduce damage to the wildlife living in the lagoon.

beyond barriers

There’s more to protecting Venice than navigating flooded streets – it’s not just “putting on rainboots,” as Malnot-Rizzoli put it.

“It’s destroying walls,” she said, pointing to the corrosive effects of water on a model building, which emphasizes the damage to architecture due to unusually high flood levels. “People don’t think about that.” The exhibit also emphasizes the economic cost of businesses taking down visitors and rebuilding a flood barrier for a gelato shop with rising and falling water levels.

Malanotte-Rizzoli gave the exhibition its seal of approval, but the Venice section is only a small part of what the finished exhibition looked like. Current plans include expanding it to include some other World Heritage Sites.

“How do we make people care about a site they haven’t visited?” Asked Julia Tate, the project manager of the touring exhibition, and displayed the production at the museum. She said it is easier to start with a city like Venice, as it is a popular tourist destination. But it’s hard to get people to care about a site they probably haven’t been to, such as the Easter Islands, which are just as at risk. There are plans to include a few more sites before turning into a traveling exhibit that will end by asking visitors to think about climate change in their cities.

“We want them to think of solutions and how to do better,” Tate said. Hope is the alternative message: it is not too late to act.

Malanotte-Rizzoli thinks it’s important for Bostonians to see their city in Venice, as Boston is also at risk from sea level rise. The history of Boston reminds Melanot-Rizzoli of her hometown and is one of the reasons why she set out to emigrate. The history involved in Boston makes the need for preservation even more important.

“Things that cannot be changed must be respected in the process of conservation,” she said. “Modern things and engineering can be done even in a city that is so fragile, so fragile.”

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