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Panama Canal


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The Panama Canal is a man-made canal which joins the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific ocean.
One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken.
Replacing the long route via Drake Passage and Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America.
A ship sailing from New York to San Francisco via the Panama canal travels 9,500 km (6,000 miles), well under half the 22,500 km (14,000 mile) route around Cape Horn.
The first attempt to construct the panama canal began in 1880 under French leadership.
This attempt was failed and saw 21,900 workers died.
Then the project of building a canal was attempted and completed by the US in the early 1900’s.
Concept of Panama Canal
The length of the Panama Canal is approximately 51 miles.
A trip along the canal from its Atlantic entrance would take you through a 7 mile channel in Limón Bay.
The canal then proceeds for a distance of 11.5 miles to the Gatun Locks.
This series of three locks raise ships 26 metres to Gatun Lake.
It continues through a channel in Gatun Lake for 32 miles to Gamboa. This channel is 8 miles long and 150 metres wide.
At the end of this channel, there are the locks at Pedro Miguel.
These Pedro Miguel locks lower ships 9.4 metres to a lake which then takes you to the Miraflores Locks.
Miraflores lock then lower ships 16 metres to sea level at the canal.
The Construction
The Panama Canal was constructed in two stages.
The first between 1881 and 1888, being the work carried out by the French company headed by de Lessop.
Secondly the work by the Americans which eventually completed the canals construction between 1904 and 1914.
Initially the locks at Gatun had been designed as 28.5 meters wide.
In 1908 the United States Navy requested that the locks should be increased to have a width of at least 36 meters which would allow the passage of US naval ships.
Compromise was made and the locks were constructed to a width of 33.53 meters .
The walls ranging in thickness from 15 meters at the base to 3 meters at the top.
The central wall between the parallel locks at Gatun has a thickness of 18 meters and stands in excess of 24 meters in height.
It is the size of the locks, specifically the Pedro Miguel Locks, at Balboa, that determine the Panamax metric and limit the size of ships that may use the Canal.
Peak excavation within the Culebra cut exceeded 512,500 cubic metres of material in the first three months of 1907 and the total workforce exceeded 39,000. The rock was broken up by dynamite, of which up to 4,535,000 kilogram’s were used every year.
At Gatun there are 2 parallel sets of locks each consisting of 3 flights. This set of locks lift ships a total of 26 metres. The locks are constructed from concrete from which the aggregate originated from the excavated rock at Culebra. In excess of 1.53 million cubic metres of concrete was used in the construction of the Gatun locks alone.
The building of the canal was completed in 1914, two years ahead of the target date of June 1, 1916.
How does the canal work
Problems at the Culebra Cut

When the canal was first designed, the problem of landslides had been ignored.
Slides of earth and more importantly rock, increased the amount of excavation within Culebra.
The cross section of the canal was constantly being changed to accommodate for the landslides.
The slides caused the upper edge of the cut to be taken back beyond their original lines.
Numerous test borings had been carried out and samples of the rock were taken, therefore, the quality of the rock was known.
The reason for the misjudgement of the strength was due to the underlying strata which contained bands of clay and iron pyrites.
Therefore, when the overlying material had been removed, rainwater precipitated through to the lower strata which included the pyrites, whereby rapid deterioration occurred.
The first major slide occurred in 1907 at Cucaracha.
The initial crack was first noted on October 4th, 1907, then without warning approximately 382,000 cubic metres of clay, moved more than 4 metres in 24 hours.
As a direct result of all the slides and upheavals encountered, excavation increased by 15.3 million cubic metres. This was about 25% of the total estimated amount of earth moved.
Fast Facts
One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken
A ship sailing from New York to San Francisco via the canal travels 9,500 km (6,000 miles), well under half the 22,500 km (14,000 mile) route around Cape Horn.
By the time the canal was completed, a total of 27,500 workmen are estimated to have died in the French and American efforts.
When the first major slide occurred in 1907 at Cucaracha, many people thought that the construction of the Panama Canal would be impossible.
A tidal range of 20 feet at the Pacific, whereas, the Atlantic range was only about 1 foot. It was concluded that this difference in levels would be a danger to navigation.
In 1899 the French attempt, had excavated a total of 59.75 million cubic metres which included 14.255 million cubic metres from the Culebra Cut.
When the French left, they left behind a considerable amount of machinery housing and a hospital.
The reasons behind the French failing to complete the project were due to the diseases carrying mosquitos and the yellow fever and the inadequacy of their machinery.
An excess of 1.53 million cubic metres of concrete was used in the construction of the Gatun locks alone.
Civil Engineers made the IMPOSSIBLE..?

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