August 15, 2011

How the Panama Canal works.

     Did you know that the Panama Canal was excavated in one of the narrowest and lowest parts of the mountainous Isthmus of Panama, linking North and South America? The Panama Canal is 80 kilometers long from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean and a ship takes about 8 to 10 hours to cross it.
      The Panama Canal operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It has only closed its doors to world trade twice: first as a result of a landslide in 1915, and the second on December 20, 1989, during the U.S. invasion to Panama.
To explain the operation of the Panama Canal, I will present it from two points of view: one, from inside the canal and the other, following the displacement of a ship through the canal.

The engineering of the Panama Canal

          The water to raise and lower the ships in each set of locks, actually a sort of stairs, whose steps to ascend or descend are filled or emptied of water, it’s obtained by simple gravity from Gatun Lake. The water enters through the main sewer system. From this main sewer, 10 sets are under the lock chambers from the sidewalls, and 10 sets are from the central wall.
      Each sewer has a set of five holes of 4.5 feet of diameter. As you pour the water into the mainsewer, it is distributed through 100 holes in the floor of the chamber into the airlock where the ship. In this way, the ship can be raised to the level of the next chamber or to the level of the Gatun Lake, if it’s the last chamber. If it’s to lower the ship, we make the reverse procedure: the water is drawn through the sewers until the water level is the same to the next chamber or lock, or to the sea level if it’s to leave the Canal. For each ship which transiting by the Canal, it’s used about 52 million gallons of fresh water, which flows by gravity through the locks and then discharged into the ocean.

Displacement of a ship through the Canal

          Each set of locks of the Panama Canal is named by the town where it was built: Gatun (on the Atlantic side), Pedro Miguel and Miraflores (on the Pacific side).
      A ship transiting the Canal from the Atlantic towards the Pacific enters to the Canal from Limon Bay, after passing through the Cristobal breakwater.
This stretch of sea level in the Atlantic is 10 kilometers long and 152 feet wide, through a mangrove swamp which is at sea level.
      The ships descend or ascend about 26 feet through the three chambers of the Gatun Locks. Each camera measures 33.53 meters wide and 304.8 meters long. The length of the Gatun Locks, including the approach wall is more than two kilometers. After the ship has pass through the Gatun Lake up to Pedro Miguel Locks at the southern end of Gaillard Cut. Down there about 9 meters in one step to Miraflores Lake level, which separates the two sets of Pacific locks. The ship the last two steps down to the level of the sea in Miraflores Locks which has more than 1.600 meters long. The gates of Miraflores are the highest in the entire system due to the sharp variations in the Pacific tide.
      Ships transiting the Panama Canal are towed from one camera to another in each set of locks by electric locomotives (mules), specially designed for this purpose.
      The canal employs about 240 practical to transit the ships using the waterway. The captains of the ships that cross this route have to cede control to the staff exclusively responsible for this phase of the transit. This reflects the need to observe the maximum safety standards imposed by the movement of ships through the Panama Canal.
      Ships from around the world transit daily through the Canal. Around 13 to 14 thousand ships use the Panama Canal each year.