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  The impact of sea level rise on flooding in Venice and implications for the MOSE storm surge barrier

   School of Ocean and Earth Sciences

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  Dr Alessandro Silvano  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Coastal flooding is already one of the most dangerous and costly natural hazards that humanity faces globally and yet it will become even more frequent and challenging to manage because of climate change and other factors. In densely populated estuarine settings, a storm surge barrier is often an attractive and economical solution for flood protection. There are currently more than 50 storm surge barriers in operation today around the world protecting tens of million people and trillions of pounds of property and infrastructure. However, with accelerating rates of sea-level rise being observed and changes in storminess, surge barriers are starting to have to close increasingly frequently. Increased used of barriers in the future has critical implications for barrier management, maintenance, and operation and also has negative ramifications for shipping (increasingly interrupting navigation with economic impacts) and the health of the estuary behind the barrier and the important ecosystems (e.g., saltmarshes and lagoon) they support. This project will focus on Venice (Italy), one of the world’s most famous cities because of its unique cultural heritage built over 1000 years. The entire city of Venice along with the lagoon constitutes a UNESCO World Heritage site. Venice also represents an important economic area (> 20 Billions Pound every year) based on tourism and shipping activities. Venice is especially vulnerable to flooding and the MOSE storm surge barrier has been built to protect the city. The overall aim of this PhD is to assess the impact of sea level rise and changes in storminess on flooding in Venice and to consider implications for the MOSE storm surge barrier. The impact of high-end sea level rise (> 1 m by 2100) due to collapse of the ice sheets will also be considered. Results will be used to guide future barrier management, maintenance, operation, and upgrade/replacement planning of the MOSE barrier. 

The study will have three main components. First, a broad scale assessment will be carried out assessing how both mean and extreme sea-levels have changed in Venice lagoon in the past, using tide gauge records and model re-analysis, and assessing likely future changes using a range of projections. Second, a statistical method will be developing (building on existing work being carried out at the University of Southampton) to estimate, using climate change projections, how many more times the MOSE barriers will have to close each year and when in the year, in the future. Changes in weather predictability in a warming world will be assessed as part of this exercise. Today storm surge barriers typically close between 1 and 30 times per year, but with a sea level rise of 1 m, this will increase to >100 closures per year. An assessment will be made of implications of increased closures on storm surge barrier management and maintenance and operation. This will consider the engineering implications on integrity/reliability. Moreover, the role of inhomogeneity of data used in forecasting water levels and in the decisional support systems will be investigated in a scenario of rapid sea level rise. Third, the project will undertake a detailed numerically modelling exercise to consider how increased closures of the MOSE Barrier will impact on the ecosystem and water quality health of Venice Lagoon. 


Apply online: Search for a Postgraduate Programme of Study ( Select programme type (Research), 2024/25, Faculty Environmental and Life Sciences, select Full-time or Part-time, next page select “PhD Ocean & Earth Science (FLOOD CDT). In Section 2 of the application form you should insert the name of the supervisor.

PhD FLOOD CDT – full-time (programme length of 48 months) – code 9215

PhD FLOOD CDT – part-time (programme length of 84 months) – code 9216

Engineering (12) Environmental Sciences (13) Geography (17) Geology (18) Physics (29)

Funding Notes

The CDT will provide at least 56 fully funded PhD studentships over 4 cohorts, with first entry of 16 doctoral researchers staring in October 2024. The studentship will cover UK course fees and an enhanced tax-free stipend of year for 3.5 years along with a budget for research, travel, and placement activities. Details of the studentship amount can be found on the NERC web-site:


Umgiesser, G., Bajo, M., Ferrarin, C., Cucco, A., Lionello, P., Zanchettin, D., Papa, A., Tosoni, A., Ferla, M., Coraci, E., Morucci, S., Crosato, F., Bonometto, A., Valentini, A., Orlić, M., Haigh, I. D., Nielsen, J. W., Bertin, X., Fortunato, A. B., Pérez Gómez, B., Alvarez Fanjul, E., Paradis, D., Jourdan, D., Pasquet, A., Mourre, B., Tintoré, J., and Nicholls, R. J.: The prediction of floods in Venice: methods, models and uncertainty (review article), Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 2679–2704,, 2021.
Sunke Trace-Kleeberg, Ivan D. Haigh, Marc Walraven, Susan Gourvenec (2023) How should storm surge barrier maintenance strategies be changed in light of sea-level rise? A case study, Coastal Engineering, 184, 104336,

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