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Thread: Who has ever thought about that? Panama Canal.

  1. #1 Who has ever thought about that? Panama Canal. 
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    Every time a ship passes through the Panama Canal it takes 55 million gallons of water. (To top up the locks.) 13000 ships a year adds up to a fair amount of water. Now that the larger "super" ships are becoming more common, they're having to build wider channels with bigger locks. Therefore they need more water.

    Reforestation study shows trade-offs between water, carbon and timber

    I have no knowledge of what would and wouldn't be a good way to deal with this problem, but it goes to show that there are all kinds of issues around the world that just fly under everyone's radar.

    Of course, I'd wonder why they don't use pumped seawater, but maybe this is an issue for some other reason. Power supply or something or other. Maybe corrosion of the lock equipment would be too high.

    Whatever. It just makes me think of how many things we all think of as pretty routine facts about the world, like shipping passing through the Panama Canal, actually have all kinds of implications and details that would never occur to us without prompting.


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    Forum Freshman overthelight's Avatar
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    But that's important for transporting.


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    Forum Radioactive Isotope cosmictraveler's Avatar
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    They were going to build another canal in Costa Rico a few years ago , in the far north area where there's about 50 miles separating the east from the west coast but they never went through with that idea for some reason. This canal was going to be done without any locks , just a straight canal.
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    This may be a stupid question, but why couldn't they make the Panama Canal a straight canal? Elevation changes?
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    You mean a sea level canal? It would require removal of a lot of dirt - 765 million cubic metres. It would allow the Atlantic and Pacific marine species to mingle, creating some environmental issues.
    The Panama Canal


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    Quote Originally Posted by Harold14370 View Post
    You mean a sea level canal? It would require removal of a lot of dirt - 765 million cubic metres. It would allow the Atlantic and Pacific marine species to mingle, creating some environmental issues.
    The Panama Canal


    Someone needs to manufacture a Harold app for smart phones. Expedient information provided in concise statements with suitable links to reputable sites upon request.
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    Forum Radioactive Isotope cosmictraveler's Avatar
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    You mean a sea level canal? It would require removal of a lot of dirt - 765 million cubic metres. It would allow the Atlantic and Pacific marine species to mingle, creating some environmental issues.
    As if they don't already at the tip of South America? I do not understand why both oceans connecting, as they all do somewhere around the world, would cause any problems at all. Many fishes are found in many different oceans as you well know by now. So I do not understand your concern about that.

    The other thing you mentioned is that of the amount of dirt and rock that would be removed, how much do you think they have already removed from the Panama canal and don't forget to include the newly widening of the canal now as well.
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    So they're using fresh water to accomplish a task that could have been accomplished using sea water?

    I guess it would be really hard to pump sea water due to the salt gumming up the machinery. But, why couldn't they recycle the water they're dumping out of the locks when they lower the water level? Pump that water into a nearby reservoir or something, and then pump it back in from there after the ship has gone through?

    I don't see any good reason why the water must be wasted, unless they're just too cheap to use the necessary amounts of electricity pumping it.
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    Forum Radioactive Isotope cosmictraveler's Avatar
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    They use the same fresh water over and over many times with this operation I believe. That is because the locks are sealed as is the fresh water that goes between them.
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    So the 55 million gallons per ship movement is the overflow? Or the total amount but there's some unquantified amount of overflow/loss each time?

    See. Told you I didn't know anything about this.
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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmictraveler View Post
    They use the same fresh water over and over many times with this operation I believe. That is because the locks are sealed as is the fresh water that goes between them.
    Only going downhill from the 3 locks on each side from the lake to the sea. The top lock is always refilled using the fresh water from the lake.
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  13. #12  
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    My guess as to why they do not use seawater is mainly that they would have to pump it too far. It would be cheaper to pump from a closer source of freshwater. Also, seawater grows marine organisms that block up pipes, valves, pumps etc. Barnacles in the belfry.
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  14. #13  
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    Quote Originally Posted by adelady View Post
    Every time a ship passes through the Panama Canal it takes 55 million gallons of water. (To top up the locks.) 13000 ships a year adds up to a fair amount of water. Now that the larger "super" ships are becoming more common, they're having to build wider channels with bigger locks. Therefore they need more water.

    Reforestation study shows trade-offs between water, carbon and timber

    I have no knowledge of what would and wouldn't be a good way to deal with this problem, but it goes to show that there are all kinds of issues around the world that just fly under everyone's radar.

    Of course, I'd wonder why they don't use pumped seawater, but maybe this is an issue for some other reason. Power supply or something or other. Maybe corrosion of the lock equipment would be too high.

    Whatever. It just makes me think of how many things we all think of as pretty routine facts about the world, like shipping passing through the Panama Canal, actually have all kinds of implications and details that would never occur to us without prompting.
    The energy needed if the water were to be recycled can be estimated: ~50m US galls/ship => 200 m litres => 2 x 10⁵ tonnes/ship. The height of the highest level, to which the water would have to be returned, is ~25m. Lifting 1 tonne through 1m takes ~ 10kJ. So the energy per ship is ~ 5 x 10⁷kJ. 30 ships/day, say 1/hr, means this much every 3600 secs, i.e. ~ 1.5 x 10⁴ kJ/sec, or 15MW of power needed. So, unless I've dropped a zero somewhere (someone may care to check the arithmetic), a smallish diesel power station could supply this easily. But what I read is that the rainfall is high and a river intersected the course of the canal anyway when it was being planned, so they made dams and lakes to channel the existing available water.
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  15. #14  
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    Came across this interesting blog on the project: CH2M HILL | An Intern Experiences Program Management at the Panama Canal

    Some amazing photos. The scale of the project is .... just ... huge!
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  16. #15  
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    Interesting. I remember visiting the canal, in the all-pervasive rain and humidity, when I once spent a few weeks there commissioning an oil plant. That was in the days of "Pineapple Face" Noriega. Times have changed.
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    Originally the intention was to have a sea level canal but that failed.

    Isn't the canal reliant on fresh water coming from higher elevation catchments and doesn't the canal follow pre-existing river valleys wherever possible? Sufficient water flow from higher elevations would be a prerequisite to a viable canal - and the Alajuela Lake catchment serves that purpose. Other dams are there to avoid unnecessary water wastage - water from a draining lock being diverted to pondage at similar elevation, for reuse to fill locks lower in the chain. (I saw a doco on English canals that featured a series of locks in a river that had insufficient flow for the river traffic if the water simply drained down the canal - the solution was a pond/dam beside each lock that both saved the water from the previous lock as wells as acting as additional water reserve).

    I would assume there is a freshwater ecosystem; it may be more disrupted than otherwise but not as messed up as what would happen if salt water were used. The earliest canal project would not have had pumped water from lower elevations as a viable option and planned to cut right the way through. Even now it would probably not be viable without that high elevation water catchment.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ken Fabos View Post
    Originally the intention was to have a sea level canal but that failed.

    Isn't the canal reliant on fresh water coming from higher elevation catchments and doesn't the canal follow pre-existing river valleys wherever possible? Sufficient water flow from higher elevations would be a prerequisite to a viable canal - and the Alajuela Lake catchment serves that purpose.
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  19. #18  
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    I'm jumping in here where I should read up on Panama Canal operations, but as an old Dutchman I have seen a few locks in my time.

    They always worked purely by gravity, both ways. You need not pump anything at all, you need controllable gates which are strong enough to open or close under pressure.

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