Did you know that a simple drought in the Panama region could cease the operation of the great Panama Canal? In order to securely transfer passing ships across the canal, this marvel of civil engineering employs an ingenious locking arrangement to lift passing ships by nearly 20 metres. So let’s see How does the Panama Canal Work. To materialize this smart Canal lock system a super fast concreting technology was needed. Look at the giant T cranes the American engineers invented. They were moved by steam locomotives and did you notice a small house sitting above the crane in below image?
Interestingly the steam engine inside this house was able to lift a bucket filled with concrete and also control its movement accurately. This steam-powered cable pulley mechanism delivered the bucket to its destination much faster than manual material transportation.
The way it dumped the concrete was also quite innovative. You might have already noticed how this 100 year old invention was able to move the concrete bucket in all three directions. The Americans invented many more incredible machines to complete the Panama Canal project successfully.
Why is this Panama canal project so important?
If you can connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans via water the ships can save a travel distance of 20,000 kilometers. The best location to achieve the canal dream is a narrow region in the country of Panama. Panama is a stunning country with very rugged terrain.
The most obvious solution is to Simply dig all of this out allowing the oceans on both sides to rush in and connect. So ships can continue their voyage. The French tried this exact method in 1892 and failed. Miserably landslides, torrential rain and disease were the main problems. Removal of the earth took almost eight years and killed nearly 22 thousand people. As a result the project was eventually abandoned.
The Americans came up with a brilliant idea. Why should you dig the Earth completely? Just remove a portion of these huge mountains and flood the entire length of land with water. So How does the Panama Canal work?
How they filled only a small width with water without flooding the entire country of Panama?
As you can clearly see as long as the ship is raised onto this new elevated water surface it can easily cross Panama. But how precisely did they manage to lift a large ship to the new water level? Engineers relied on this simple trick. If an object can float on water just by increasing the water level it will be lifted up.
To implement this trick we must first install three gates at the entrance of the Panama Canal.
Assume the first gate is open. The ship enters the region between the two gates. Now close the first gate and open the valve. The water from the second chamber is released. Both the water level and the ship will automatically rise. Once the water levels are equal open the second gate so that the ship can effortlessly enter the next chamber.
Now close the second gate and do one more water leveling. After a few more water levelings the ship can now enter the raised water platform effortlessly. Just like that the ship can continue on its long journey through this fantastic shortcut through Panama.
The ship must be lowered back to sea level when it reaches the canal’s end. In order to accomplish this simply perform the same water leveling technique in the exact opposite sequence. The ship has been lowered to the ocean level. So, How does the Panama Canal work?
How Panama Canal Works?
This raising and lowering is a completely gravity-based method. No external energy is needed for this operation. However did you notice a small issue here? Ocean and chamber water levels were equal as the first ship entered the canal. But once it had been fully hoisted up, a second water step had developed in the first chamber.
This extra water must be released into the ocean so that the next ship can enter the chamber. This water step originally came from the lake. Therefore with the passage of each ship the gatun lake loses water. If this problem wasn’t fixed, the gatun lake will ultimately entirely dry up and the Panama Canal wouldn’t function anymore.
Luckily this is not the case. The gantoon lake is supplied by the Chagras river whose water comes from local rainfall in the Panama province. As long as there is sufficient rain the water loss that occurs during each ship crossing is easily compensated for.
However the Panama Canal drought of the Year 2019 scared everyone. The water level in Panama became too low due to the drought and Some shippers were forced to limit the amount of cargo in order to safely navigate the Waterway.
The next year there was sufficient rainfall and the canal was functioning optimally once again.
How do they flood this exact region of Panama?
Now let’s tackle the big question how do they flood this exact region of Panama. For this we must first construct a dam. The water stream from the chagras river will accumulate within the dam region. The newly formed water body is called gatun Lake. One of the largest man-made lakes.
Changing the height of the water surface or the height of the dam is all that is necessary to generate varied amounts of flooding. Unfortunately there is no way to flood only this region. If you try to flood the entire Crossing almost the entire country of Panama will be underwater.
Because of this American Engineers decided to stop the flooding at this level. Almost two-thirds of the land is flooded and only a small portion remains above water.
Now Begins the real challenge. Removal of this 15 kilometer long unflooded region or the formation of Culebra cut.
The whole purpose connect the dam and ocean water. Have a look at these gigantic machines known as a track shifter, dirt spreader and unloader. Interestingly they were all invented for one specific purpose Form the calabra cut by removing the Earth and connect the oceans.
Panama Canal Construction Machinery
The king of the Panama Canal construction Machinery was the steam shovel created by Bucyrus. To accomplish this Mega project 70 such steam shovels were employed. Even such a gigantic machine struggled in Panama’s Rocky terrain.
The right solution is usage of dynamite. A staggering eight hundred thousand sticks of dynamite were used on average per month during the major excavation work. The dynamite effortlessly broke large rocks into smaller pieces which could then be easily scooped up by steam shovels. One scoop could move two tons of dirt.
Take a look at the power source of this gigantic machine A steam engine. The way this steam engine controls this machine is a classic example of the incredible Innovations of the early 20th century.
Engineers turned the boom using a mount with a rope around it. The Dipper stick was able to move to and fro thanks to interesting gear arrangement. The Dipper stick could also rotate because of this chain pulley arrangement.
When the bucket was ready to dump the material the crane operator simply pulled the latch. The wagons now filled with dirt could start their Journey towards the dump area. As it turns out even just emptying the dirt from these 20 plus wagons was a big challenge. So this is the How does the Panama Canal work.