New laser-scanning project will allow Venice to live on forever as a digital avatar

Acqua alta floods in Piazza San Marco.
Acqua alta floods in Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy. Image: Wolfgang Moroder, Wikimedia; CC BY-SA 3.0.

A digital record of all San Giorgio’s buildings, inside and out has been made by Adam Lowe and team from Factum Foundation, with ARCHiVE, the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne and Iconem.

To achieve this digital replica of the endangered city, the team has used a LiDAR (light detection and ranging) scanner. LiDAR sends out a pulsed laser light towards the target object and measures the time it takes the laser to return. It calculates the distance the light has travelled, and plots that point in a digital 3D space. The LiDAR has recorded inscriptions so high up they cannot be read from the ground. And when Factum will have recorded the roofs using a drone, the grounds and the all-important relationship between the surface of the island and the rising and falling levels of the water, there will be a perfectly accurate record of the whole.

This will allow the encroachments of the water and the consequent damage to the island and buildings to be monitored precisely as the water level rises in the Adriatic and the lagoon. And this is a certainty, according to the highly authoritative IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), although the levels it predicts vary according to various environmental scenarios.

Atonishingly, the Italian Government itself does not have any plans for what to do when Venice does sink. The predictions from the report of IPCC are pretty telling. “Sea level will continue to rise for centuries. It could reach around 30-60cm by 2100, even if greenhouse gas emissions are sharply reduced and global warming is limited to well below 2°C [most experts now believe we shall not manage this], but around 60-110cm if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase strongly”. At 110cm, Venice will be underwater at every high tide, and serious damage to its buildings will start at a much lower level.

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