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The Panama Canal

The Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is an artificial waterway created to shorten shipping routes between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean.

Geography

Keywords

Panama Canal, Panama, channel, water transport, lock system, sluice, trade, shipping, freight transport, routes, transport, commerce, logistics, transportation, America, North America, South America, Central America, Pacific Ocean, Caribbean, tarnsport capacity, node, Atlanti-óceán, Colón, infrastructure, global, economy, Earth, society, human geography, network, globalisation, geography, Earth globe, technology

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Scenes

Maritime choke points

  • Øresund
  • Bosphorus
  • Suez Canal
  • Strait of Hormuz
  • Bab el-Mandeb
  • Strait of Malacca
  • Panama Canal
  • Cape of Good Hope
  • Cape Horn
  • Strait of Gibraltar
  • English Channel
  • Africa
  • Europe
  • Asia
  • Australia
  • North America
  • South America
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Indian Ocean

The Panama Canal is an artificial waterway built to shorten shipping routes at the Isthmus of Panama which connects North and South America. Opened in 1914, the canal connects the Pacific Ocean with the Caribbean Sea.

Panama Canal

  • Pacific Ocean
  • Caribbean Sea
  • Colón
  • Panama
  • Limon Bay
  • Gatun Locks - Part of the original lock system.
  • Agua Clara Locks - New locks built during the expansion of the canal.
  • Chagres River
  • Gatun Lake - An artificial lake created during the building of the canal.
  • railway tracks - The shipping route followed the railway tracks that had to be altered in some places because a section of it was flooded by Gatun Lake.
  • shipping route
  • Culebra Cut - A 14-km-long artificial valley.
  • Pedro Miguel Locks - Part of the original lock system.
  • Miraflores Locks - Part of the original lock system.
  • Cocol Locks - New locks built during the expansion of the canal.
  • Bridge of the Americas

The construction of the canal was started by a French company in 1881. It was led by Ferdinand de Lesseps, who had also had success building the Suez Canal. However, as the geographical and climatic properties of the region had been misjudged, various engineering and health issues arose as well as financial problems. The project seemed doomed and the company went bankrupt.

The most challenging engineering task was the excavation of the Culebra Cut, an artificial valley cutting through the Continental Divide.

In 1904, the project was finally taken over by the US, which eventually completed and opened the canal in 1914.

The completed canal was about 80 km long. It consisted of several artificial lakes, natural and artificial channels, and three sets of locks.

The Panama Canal had been under the control of the United States until 1999 when it was taken over by the government of Panama.

Thousands of ships pass through the canal annually. In 2010, a Chinese ship became the one millionth vessel to cross.

Increasing traffic and larger ships made it necessary to expand the canal. Expansion work started in 2007. Wider and deeper locks were needed so that larger ships could pass through. Two new sets of locks were built, the Culebra Cut was widened, and the artificial lakes were enlarged and deepened as well. The expansion of the canal was completed in 2016.

Maximum ship sizes

  • Panamax - Only this type of ship (or smaller) could pass through the Panama Canal before the expansion. It has a capacity of 4,500 TEU.
  • 294 m
  • 32 m
  • New Panamax - This type of ship can also pass through the Panama Canal since it was expanded. It has a capacity of 13,000 TEU.
  • 366 m
  • 49 m

Before the expansion, the size of Panamax ships was the upper limit for vessels that could pass the canal. The name Panamax suggests that these ships were designed to cross the Panama Canal. Since the expansion, Neopanamax vessels, with their considerably larger size and cargo capacity, also navigate through the canal.

Side view

  • Pacific Ocean
  • Caribbean Sea
  • Miraflores Locks
  • Miraflores Lake
  • Pedro Miguel Locks
  • Gatun Lake
  • Gatun Locks
  • 26 m

The locks lift ships 26 m above sea level at one end and lower them at the other. Each flight of locks consists of several chambers, so the ships are lifted and lowered three times. Electric locomotives assist vessels in transiting the older locks, while this is done by tugboats on the new locks. Navigation is aided by canal pilots along the other parts of the canal. On average, it takes about 8 to 10 hours for a ship to pass through the canal.

Alternative routes

  • Africa
  • Europe
  • Asia
  • Australia
  • North America
  • South America
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Indian Ocean
  • New York
  • Panama Canal
  • Cape Horn
  • San Francisco
  • Shanghai
  • 30,500 km
  • 19,500 km
  • 8,400 km
  • 21,000 km
  • 4,700 km

Without the canal, voyages from Asia to the east coast of America would be thousands of kilometres longer. It also shortens shipping routes from the East Coast to the West Coast of the United States. Rail transport between the two coasts is shorter in terms of route and time, but maritime transport is far more economical as ships can carry multiple times the cargo of freight trains.

Data

  • Main trade routes
  • Water use
  • Traffic
  • Vessel types

Routes

More than half the ships that passing through the Panama Canal transport cargo between Asia and the east coast of North America, but there is also significant sea traffic from the west coast of South America to Europe and the east coast of North America and back.

Water use

A lock chamber is filled with water in less than eight minutes. Water loss has decreased by nearly 10% since the construction of the new locks. 60% of the water is recycled.

Traffic

The number of ships passing through the canal increased steadily until the 1980s, except during World War II, but it has stagnated since then. However, the quantity of cargo shipped is still growing as the cargo capacities of vessels are increasing as well.

Vessel types

It is mostly container ships that pass through the Panama Canal. However, while ships carrying solid and liquid cargo use the old locks built before the expansion, gas transport predominates through the new flights of locks that were opened in 2016.

Animation

  • Øresund
  • Bosphorus
  • Suez Canal
  • Strait of Hormuz
  • Bab el-Mandeb
  • Strait of Malacca
  • Panama Canal
  • Cape of Good Hope
  • Cape Horn
  • Strait of Gibraltar
  • English Channel
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Caribbean Sea
  • Colón
  • Panama
  • Limon Bay
  • Gatun Locks - Part of the original lock system.
  • Agua Clara Locks - New locks built during the expansion of the canal.
  • Chagres River
  • Gatun Lake - An artificial lake created during the building of the canal.
  • railway tracks - The shipping route followed the railway tracks that had to be altered in some places because a section of it was flooded by Gatun Lake.
  • shipping route
  • Culebra Cut - A 14-km-long artificial valley.
  • Pedro Miguel Locks - Part of the original lock system.
  • Miraflores Locks - Part of the original lock system.
  • Cocol Locks - New locks built during the expansion of the canal.
  • Bridge of the Americas
  • Panamax - Only this type of ship (or smaller) could pass through the Panama Canal before the expansion. It has a capacity of 4,500 TEU.
  • 294 m
  • 32 m
  • New Panamax - This type of ship can also pass through the Panama Canal since it was expanded. It has a capacity of 13,000 TEU.
  • 366 m
  • 49 m
  • Miraflores Locks
  • Miraflores Lake
  • Pedro Miguel Locks
  • Gatun Lake
  • Gatun Locks
  • 26 m
  • Africa
  • Europe
  • Asia
  • Australia
  • North America
  • South America
  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Indian Ocean
  • New York
  • Panama Canal
  • Cape Horn
  • San Francisco
  • Shanghai
  • 30,500 km
  • 19,500 km
  • 8,400 km
  • 21,000 km
  • 4,700 km
  • Main trade routes
  • Asia - East Coast, USA 51.2%
  • West Coast, South America - West Coast, USA 17.5%
  • West Coast, South America - Europe 10.6%
  • West Coast, Central America - East Coast, USA 7.8%
  • Europe - West Coast, North America 6%
  • Other 6.9%
  • Before the expansion
  • After the expansion
  • Water loss at transit
  • 79 Olympic-size swimming pools
  • 73 Olympic-size swimming pools
  • 1,975 tankers
  • 1,825 tankers
  • Traffic
  • 1914
  • 1929
  • 1944
  • 1959
  • 1974
  • 1989
  • 2004
  • 2016
  • number of transits
  • 0
  • 2,000
  • 4,000
  • 6,000
  • 8,000
  • 10,000
  • 12,000
  • 14,000
  • 16,000
  • 18,000
  • capacity (million tonnes)
  • 0
  • 50
  • 100
  • 150
  • 200
  • 250
  • 300
  • 350
  • Vessel types (2016)
  • Old lock system
  • 22%
  • 3.2%
  • 6.2%
  • 4.5%
  • 20.4%
  • 7.3%
  • 14.7%
  • 5.5%
  • 1.7%
  • 14.5%
  • New lock system
  • 64.3%
  • 22.8%
  • 6.7%
  • 4.5%
  • 1.3%

Narration

The Panama Canal is an artificial waterway built to shorten shipping routes at the Isthmus of Panama which connects North and South America. Opened in 1914, the canal connects the Pacific Ocean with the Caribbean Sea.

The construction of the canal was started by a French company in 1881. It was led by Ferdinand de Lesseps, who had also had success building the Suez Canal. However, as the geographical and climatic properties of the region had been misjudged, various engineering and health issues arose as well as financial problems. The project seemed doomed and the company went bankrupt.

The most challenging engineering task was the excavation of the Culebra Cut, an artificial valley cutting through the Continental Divide.

In 1904, the project was finally taken over by the US, which eventually completed and opened the canal in 1914.

The completed canal was about 80 km long. It consisted of several artificial lakes, natural and artificial channels, and three sets of locks.

The Panama Canal had been under the control of the United States until 1999 when it was taken over by the government of Panama.

Thousands of ships pass through the canal annually. In 2010, a Chinese ship became the one millionth vessel to cross.

Increasing traffic and larger ships made it necessary to expand the canal. Expansion work started in 2007. Wider and deeper locks were needed so that larger ships could pass through. Two new sets of locks were built, the Culebra Cut was widened, and the artificial lakes were enlarged and deepened as well. The expansion of the canal was completed in 2016.

Before the expansion, the size of Panamax ships was the upper limit for vessels that could pass the canal. The name Panamax suggests that these ships were designed to cross the Panama Canal. Since the expansion, Neopanamax vessels, with their considerably larger size and cargo capacity, also navigate through the canal.

The locks lift ships 26 m above sea level at one end and lower them at the other. Each flight of locks consists of several chambers, so the ships are lifted and lowered three times. Electric locomotives assist vessels in transiting the older locks, while this is done by tugboats on the new locks. Navigation is aided by canal pilots along the other parts of the canal. On average, it takes about 8 to 10 hours for a ship to pass through the canal.

Without the canal, voyages from Asia to the east coast of America would be thousands of kilometres longer. It also shortens shipping routes from the East Coast to the West Coast of the United States. Rail transport between the two coasts is shorter in terms of route and time, but maritime transport is far more economical as ships can carry multiple times the cargo of freight trains.

More than half the ships that passing through the Panama Canal transport cargo between Asia and the east coast of North America, but there is also significant sea traffic from the west coast of South America to Europe and the east coast of North America and back.

A lock chamber is filled with water in less than eight minutes. Water loss has decreased by nearly 10% since the construction of the new locks. 60% of the water is recycled.

The number of ships passing through the canal increased steadily until the 1980s, except during World War II, but it has stagnated since then. However, the quantity of cargo shipped is still growing as the cargo capacities of vessels are increasing as well.

It is mostly container ships that pass through the Panama Canal. However, while ships carrying solid and liquid cargo use the old locks built before the expansion, gas transport predominates through the new flights of locks that were opened in 2016.

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