The Panama Canal is approximately 80 kilometers (50 miles) long flowing between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Canal was dug crossing the narrowest section of the Panamanian Isthmus that joins North and South America. Since its inauguration the 15th of August 1914, it has sought to shorten in both time and distance world maritime communication.
The Canal has resulted in creating a more agile commercial and economic exchange by offering a shortened and relatively inexpensive inter-oceanic transit route. It has decisively influenced worldwide commerce patterns, stimulated the economic growth of countries and provided the basic impulse for the economic expansion of many remote regions of the world.
The Canal uses a system of locks with enormous water storage chambers used to elevate the ships above sea level only to later lower them back down to sea level at the Canal exit. The locks fun the enormous passing ships up to the level of Lake Gatun. (26 meters or 85 feets above sea level), then lowering them back down again at the other end of the lake.
Each group of locks is know by the name of the place where they were built and now operates; Gatun on the Atlantic side and Pedro Miguel and Miraflores on the Pacific side. The recently added new locks of the enlarged Canal go by the names of Cocolí on the Pacific side and Agua Clara on the Atlantic side.
The water used to raise and lower the ships in each set of locks comes from Gatun Lake which itself is fed from the powerful Chagres River.
The Canal locks function with fresh water; without the availability of the Chagres River it would not have been possible to construct the Canal or to put it into operation. The water enters the locks by gravity via a system of tunnels dug beneath the lock chambers, the flanks and the central wall. The origin first set of locks are 305 meters (1000 feet) long by 33.5 (110 feet) wide while the newly built and amplified locks measure 427 meters (140 feet) long by 55 meters (180 feet) wide. The third set of locks, the new ones, permit ships of up to 365 meters (1200 feet) long by 49 meters (160 feet) wide to navigate through the Canal while still permitting ships of up to 294.3 meters (966 feet) long by 32.2 meters (106 feet) wide to navigate the original locks. The functional depth of the original canal is 12.8 meters (42 feet) which permit ships with a draft (depth of water from keel to water line) of 12. 04 meters (40 feet) without running aground. The newly amplified canal now has a functional depth of 18.3 meters (60 feet) permitting a ships draft of 15.02 meters (50 feet).
On the 26th of June of 2016 a Neo-Panamax mega-ship navigated the newly enlarged canal for its inaugural crossing. The ship belonged to the Cosco Shipping Panama Company and was a shipping container cargo vessel from China which measured 299.98 meters (984 feet) long by 48.25 meters (158 feet) wide.
Ships crossing the canal have to navigate across Gatun Lake, one of the world’s largest lakes at 435 square kilometers (168 square miles) containing some 5.2 cubic kilometers (345,000 acre-feet) of fresh water. Gatun Lake is a true biological laboratory, such that on it’s dozens of islands can be found some of the most exotic animal species on earth. On the Barro Colorado Island alone scientists regularly discover new species of both plants and animals. For just this reason, The smithsonian Institute for Tropical Investigations maintains on the island an active investigations center.
The Narrowest section of the Canal is known as The Corte Culebra (Snake Cut), which extends from the extreme northern end of the Pedro Miguel Locks down the southern tip of Gatun Lake. This section of the Canal, which measures approximately 13.7 kilometers (8.5 miles) long, was one of the most difficult to excavate due to it traversing precisely through the Continental Divide, and as such, is composed entirely of solid rock.
Ships from all parts of the world transit daily through the Panama Canal. Some 14 thousand ships use the canal every year. The Panama Canal services more than 144 maritime routes connecting 160 countries and some 1700 ports around the world.
The Panama Canal operation employs approximately 10 thousand workers and functions 24 hours per day, 365 days per year providing transit service to ships from all nations without discrimination.
It´s a truly The Great Connection; The Panama Canal!