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Panama Canal

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Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is a passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, cutting through 50 miles (80 km) of jungle and rock. The Canal is essentially a 10-hour shortcut between the oceans, as ships are able to avoid going around the tip of South America—a time-consuming and costly detour.

The Canal, run today by the ACP (Panama Canal Authority), facilitates the passage of 13,000 ships per year, and collects over $600 million in toll fees.[1] It has also been listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.[2]

Contents

[edit] History

[edit] Ferdinand de Lesseps

The conception of the Panama Canal was first attempted by French businessman and contractor Ferdinand de Lesseps, in 1873. Having previously led the construction of the Suez Canal in Egypt, de Lesseps was confident in his abilities. The Panama project, however, was much more difficult than he had originally anticipated.

Aside from geographical complications resulting in landslides, de Lesseps’ workers were being subjected to Malaria and Yellow Fever, carried by mosquitoes. Ten years after construction of the Canal had begun, the project was halted; 20,000 men had been killed.[3]

By the end of de Lesseps’ attempt at the Canal, his team had excavated 77.7 million cubic yards (59.75 million m3) of material.[4] The value of this work was approximately $25 million.[5]

[edit] The Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty

In 1902, the United States Congress created the Spooner Act, authorizing the United States’ purchase of de Lesseps' assets. The U.S. was interested in continuing the construction on the Canal, provided that an agreement could be made with Colombia, who had been in control of Panama since 1819.

As Colombia did not approve of the building of a Canal across the Isthmus of Panama, the United States decided to support Panama in a revolution for independence, which was obtained in 1903.

The new Panamanian government allowed Philippe Bunau-Varilla, a French businessman and former employee of de Lesseps' Panama Canal Company, to negotiate with the US Secretary of State, John Hay. The negotiations resulted in the Hay-Bunau-Varilla treaty. Under this treaty, the United States would build the Panama Canal. In return, the US was permitted the rights to control a five-mile (8 km) wide zone on either side of the Canal. The U.S. government would begin relinquishing its control of the Canal to Panama in 1979.

[edit] Panama Doctrine

With President Roosevelt’s decision to continue the construction of the Canal, he chose John Stevens as a project leader. Stevens was a railway engineer who had no prior experience building canals.

Rather than beginning construction immediately, John Stevens spent a great amount of resources during his first year focusing on his workers’ health. In that year, under President Roosevelt’s Panama Doctrine, he was able to successfully eradicate the Yellow Fever-carrying mosquitoes.

[edit] Culebra Cut

Construction began a year later, on November 11, 1904, when the first American brand steam shovel dug into the Culebra Cut—the narrowest part of the Canal, cut through a very mountainous region. This region would later be renamed Gaillard Cut, after David du Bose Gaillard, an American engineer who supervised its construction. By December 1905, approximately 2,600 men were working on the Culebra Cut.[6] Sidings and tracks were laid for spoil wagons, and dredging and surveying began.

Two years later, more than 670,324 cubic yards (512,500 m3) of material had been excavated at Culebra Cut by more than 39,000 workers.[7] Rock in the cut was broken using dynamite—up to 9,997,967 pounds (4,535,000 kg) per year. Workers were also using over 100 Bucyrus steam shovels; each one could excavate approximately 1,203 cubic yards (920 m3) of material a day. More than 4,000 wagons, each one able to carry 19.6 cubic yards (15 m3) of material, were used to remove the excavated rock and dirt from the cut. These wagons were pulled by 160 locomotives, and unloaded by 30 Lidgerwood unloaders.

[edit] Landslides

A major issue surrounding the excavation of Culebra Cut was that its soil was an unstable mixture of rock, clay, and shale. Excavation destabilized the earth and resulted in frequent landslides. The slides began to occur during de Lessops’ attempt at the project, when crews allowed excavated material to build up on the upper levels of the cut, increasing pressure.

A major landslide at Culebra Cut took place in 1915 when eight miles of earth along the cut collapsed and slid into the channel. Following that, landslides would continue to occur throughout the project due to rain-soaked soft soil and pressure from upper levels. As a result of the slides, excavation during construction increased by 20 million cubic yards (15.3 million m3)—this was 25 percent of the project’s total excavation.

Landslides are still a regular occurrence at the Panama Canal, occurring daily. Workers must clear landslide material from Gatun Lake using dredgers that can haul 125 tons of rock and mud in a single scoop. Each day, 170 olympic-sized swimming pools worth of material are removed from the lake.[8]

[edit] Gatun Lake

Shortly after the construction of the Canal had begun, Stevens decided to dam the Chagres River, which flowed into the Atlantic Ocean, to form Gatun Lake. The lake sat 85 feet (26 m) above the Ocean level. The justification behind the formation of Gatun Lake was that the Panama Canal would be a lock canal. The newly formed lake was needed to fill the lock chambers in order to move ships through the Canal.

Panama Canal ship locks

[edit] Locks on the Canal

A lock canal consists of a series of chambers that are filled using a body of water, such as Gatun Lake, to lift or lower boats over the mountains to the level of the ocean on either side of the canal.

The three locks on the Panama Canal were named Gatun, which is the largest, Pedro Miguel, and Miraflores. These locks are 1,000 feet (305 m) long, 110 feet (34 m) wide, and 85 feet (26 m) deep. Each swinging lock gate is 65 feet (20 m) wide, and seven feet (2 m) thick. During the gates’ construction, every steel mill in America was occupied with the task of steel manufacturing. The locks took thousands of workers four years to complete.[9]

When a ship arrives at the Panama Canal from the Atlantic Ocean, it is attached by cables to locomotives on a track, and led through the Gatun Locks, consisting of three water chambers. The ship is lifted by water flowing from Gatun Lake—one chamber at a time—until it reaches the level 85 feet (26 m) above the Atlantic.

Once the ship has been raised, it continues through the Pedro Miguel Locks, being lowered by its chambers using the same principle, to the Miraflores Locks. Finally, the ship is lowered into the Pacific Ocean on the other side of the Canal. In total, Gatun Lake pumps 55 million gallons (208 million L) of water to lift each ship.

[edit] Equipment Used

[edit] Refurbishment/Recent Projects/Renovations

[edit] The Expansion Project

The Panama Canal has been an important passageway for cargo ships for nearly a century. The Canal’s future has been threatened, however, with the birth of cargo ships too large to pass through. These ships are called post-Panamax, as Panamax refers to the largest vessel that can fit through the Canal. Because of the threat of large ships seeking alternate routes, an expansion plan has been put in place to double the canal’s capacity by 2014. The new Pacific locks will be located southwest of the Miraflores Locks, and the Atlantic locks will be east of the current Gatun Locks. The US$5.25 billion expansion will be paid in full by a toll system applied to all Canal users.

[edit] Contractors

The project will be managed by Denver-based company CH2M Hill. While contractors for the job have not yet been selected, four groups (comprised of 30 companies) have been approved to move beyond the first round of competition: Consorcio C.A.N.A.L. led by ACS Servicios, Comunicaciones y Energía, S.L. of Spain; Consorcio Atlántico-Pacífico de Panamá led by Bouygues Travaux Publics of France; Bechtel, Taisei, Mitsubishi Corp., led by Bechtel Internacional, Inc. of the United States and Grupo Unidos por el Canal, led by Sacyr Vallehermoso S.A., of Spain.[10]

[edit] New Locks and Gates

A new set of locks will be built directly beside the old locks. The super-cargo ships will use the new locks while smaller ships will continue to use the existing ones. The new locks will be comprised of chambers 1,400 feet (427 m) long, 180 feet (55 m) wide, and 60 feet (18.3 m) deep.[11]

The planned locks will have gates that differ from the current ones. While the lock gates currently use a swinging miter system, the new gates will employ rolling gates, similar to those used on the Berendrecht Lock in Antwerp, Belgium, though on a much larger scale. The Pacific gates will need to be almost twice the size of the existing ones, measuring almost 10 stories tall.[12]

[edit] Water Conservation

Currently, Gatun Lake is heavily relied upon to fill the lock chambers with the passage of every ship. But the lake, which depends on rainfall for its replenishment, does not hold enough water to lift massive ships through the new locks. In consideration of this, project engineers have designed water-saving basins that will be located at each lock. These basins will enable the water to be re-used rather than being flushed into the ocean. The chambers in the new locks will be filled with 65 percent more water than the current ones, but will use approximately seven percent less water per ship.[13] This plan is not only a solution in logistics, but the conservation of water also contributes to environmental sustainability.

[edit] Future of the Canal

If the expansion plan is completed as anticipated, the Panama Canal’s capacity will double to more than 600 million tons.[14] With this expansion and the resulting accommodation of larger vessels, the improved Canal will continue to ensure that Panama is a significant player in the international trade market.

[edit] References

  1. Extreme Engineering: Widening the Panama Canal, DVD (Silver Spring, MD: Discovery Channel, 2003)
  2. InfoPlease.com The Seven Wonders of the Modern World, 2008-09-23.
  3. Extreme Engineering: Widening the Panama Canal, DVD (Silver Spring, MD: Discovery Channel, 2003)
  4. Extreme Engineering: Widening the Panama Canal, DVD (Silver Spring, MD: Discovery Channel, 2003)
  5. Extreme Engineering: Widening the Panama Canal, DVD (Silver Spring, MD: Discovery Channel, 2003)
  6. Eclipse.co.UK The Panama Canal, 2008-09-23.
  7. Eclipse.co.UK The Panama Canal, 2008-09-23.
  8. Extreme Engineering: Widening the Panama Canal, DVD (Silver Spring, MD: Discovery Channel, 2003)
  9. Extreme Engineering: Widening the Panama Canal, DVD (Silver Spring, MD: Discovery Channel, 2003)
  10. Schexnayder, C.J. Panama Canal Authority Calls For Bids on Lock Segment, December, 2007. (accessed: 2008-09-23)
  11. Schexnayder, C.J. Panama Canal Authority Calls For Bids on Lock Segment, December, 2007. (accessed: 2008-09-23)
  12. Extreme Engineering: Widening the Panama Canal, DVD (Silver Spring, MD: Discovery Channel, 2003)
  13. Schexnayder, C.J. Panama Canal Authority Calls For Bids on Lock Segment, December, 2007. (accessed: 2008-09-23)
  14. PanamaCanal.com Panama Canal Expansion - An Overview, 2008-09-23.