October 18, 2023

The Pillars of Hercules Foundation

The Pillars of Hercules Foundation

The Pillars of Hercules Foundation (PoHF), a virtual Non-Governmental Organization born in the aftermath of OfS V, was created to continue the Symposium debate on climate change, sea level rise, and the fate of coastal sites in the Venice class. As outlined during OfS V, a possible solution to provide long-term, sustainable and affordable protection for all coastline of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, still to be evaluated in detail, would be the artificial closure of the Strait of Gibraltar, to control sea level in all semi-enclosed inner basins.

The Pillars of Hercules have stood for millennia between Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. According to the myth, Hercules split the isthmus closing the Mediterranean to venture beyond the outer limits of the world, through the Strait of Gibraltar, and perform one of his Twelve Labors. In an alternate version of the same myth, he actually narrowed an existing, larger strait, to prevent Atlantic Ocean monsters from entering the Mediterranean. A similar labor is facing us today: how to stop the Atlantic Ocean itself from bursting into Mare Nostrum.

Global mean sea level shows an exponential increase, which has already reached 25 cm above pre-1900 values in 2022, and will reach 40 cm by the year 2050, 1 m by 2100 and 2.5 m by 2150. This will have dramatic effects on the entire world’s coasts, but particularly in the Mediterranean region, where geography and history combined to create the cradle of our civilization. At the same time, the morphology of the area offers a unique opportunity to study possible remediations based on environmental engineering at the basin scale.

The closure of Gibraltar could be a viable solution, providing sea level control and coastal protection, huge power generation potential, and a land link between Europe and Africa. At the same time, though, it would alter the water exchange with the Atlantic Ocean; increase Mediterranean Sea salinity and Black Sea stratification; change nutrient cycling and cause other ecological repercussion, including disrupted migration patterns of various species. Finally, it would require maritime traffic to go through locks at both Gibraltar and Suez.

As a first step toward a public debate on these issues, the PoHF is proposing an International Workshop, to be held in Venice in 2025, which should continue the discussions started at the OfS V sessions on climate change, sea level rise and the fate of coastal sites in the Venice class. A preliminary draft proposal of this event, titled “The Pillars of Hercules: A Mediterranean MOSE?”, is available here below. Comments & suggestions by the OfS Community, addressed at the Symposium Secretariat, would be most welcome.