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Panama Canal Solves Climate Change Mystery: Too Little or Too Much Rain

Panama City—Panama Canal Faces Creeping Threats of Climate Change Including drought so severe that ships sometimes reduce their cargo so that they do not run aground. and a gigantic storm that nearly flooded its dam and locks. canal officials said

The canal didn’t have a major disruption like the Suez Canal experienced in late March when large container ships ran aground for almost a week. Commitment to global freight during a time of growing bottlenecks in the global supply chain.

But the Panama waterway faces more serious long-term challenges. This could disrupt global shipping. The biggest problem is the reduction in rainfall needed to run the 50-mile waterway, which has passed 4 percent of global trade. Four of the past seven years have been one of the driest since 1

950, according to the National Institutes of Health. State-run Panama Canal Agency Estimates

Container ships wait to continue their journey near the narrow Culebracat in the Panama Canal.

Catun Lake is an artificial lake that carries ships through the Panama Canal about 20 miles and is the main reservoir for filling the logs.

“Our challenge is to solve the water problem,” said Ricaurte Vásquez, head of the Panama Canal Authority. Too little water during the dry months or too much at once Due to the warmer climate, larger storms were generated in the area. including nearby hurricanes

Canal officials will unveil a $2 billion plan to build infrastructure to manage and conserve freshwater resources as early as Monday. This is the same amount as the canal’s annual donation to the Panamanian government. The project is expected to be a combination of a new dam and reservoir. using treated wastewater or finding other sources of fresh water, such as diverting from other rivers also consider pumping sea water, desalination.

Many countries, such as the United States, have developed large reservoirs and river movements to compensate for increasing water scarcity. Cities such as Italy’s New Orleans or Venice have developed levees and barriers to prevent flooding and levels. rising seas Miami Beach is planning to invest $1 billion to upgrade roads, lift sea walls and install pumping stations to drain storm water.

Daniel Muschett, Panama Canal’s head of the Environment and Water Resources Department, said the project of scale planned by the Panama Canal is nowhere else in the world.

The role of canals in global shipping comes at a time when rapidly rising demand for consumer goods has triggered congestion on some of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

Carlos Urriola, executive chairman of Manzanillo International Terminal, a Panama-based logistics and port operator, said: “This pandemic means less shopping and more transportation. “A booming maritime trade adds to the strategic value of the canal at a time when you can’t find space on board or empty containers for that matter.”

Disruptions in the canal’s operations could have a negative impact on exporters and consumers. Chilean wine and Ecuadorian bananas are delivered to the east coast of the United States through canals. as well as copper from Chile to Europe. and natural gas and liquefied petroleum from one US coast to another.

Europe is more vulnerable to disruptions in the Suez and Panama Canals than the United States. which has a railway line connecting the two coasts Industry executives said. Alternative sea routes, such as traveling across Africa or South America. This means longer trips and higher fuel consumption.

The Panama Canal differs from the Suez Canal, which is a flat seawater canal whose current is determined by the tides. The Panama Canal is a much more complex infrastructure that relies on fresh water and uses locks as a water elevator. Raising the ship nearly 90 feet above sea level into navigation. water and then lowered to the other side

Panama’s waterways rely on rainwater to fill reservoirs and lakes, which provide millions of gallons of fresh water to fill the locks. which flows into the sea after every use Its daily water consumption is three times that of New York. Every time the ship sails along the waterways The canal will use between 200 million and 350 million gallons of water, enough to fill up to 500 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Fortunately, the Panama Canal is the fifth wettest country in the world. But with a very strong storm at the end of the rainy season or a long drought. Fresh water resources are not stable anymore. Canal officials say they have faced more challenges in the past 12 years than the rest of the canal’s existence since 1914.

The canals relied on rainwater to fill reservoirs and lakes, which would provide trillions of gallons of fresh water to fill the locks.

The rainforest that surrounds the canal is now about half the size of its former size. This reduces the ability to act as a sponge and retain excess water.

Jefferson Hall, a scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, said: “We are seeing more frequent and intense weather events. And the past is no longer a good prediction of the future,” said Jefferson Hall, a scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Rural tropics affect ecosystems and climate change.

The Panama Canal Authority, which charged tolls up to $1 million for the largest barges last year, has increased freshwater fees by more than 10 percent depending on the depth of Lake Katun. This artificial lake carries boats across the isthmus for about 20 miles and is the main reservoir for filling locks.

The reduced depth of Katun Lake meant that the ship could not be fully loaded. Officials also face the possibility of reducing the number of boats crossing the canal. Storm Devil tests the dam’s resistance and increases the risk of landslides and sediment that could clog narrow waterways such as the difficult Culebra Cut.

Jefferson Hall, a scientist in Panama Study how different landscapes in the rural tropics affect ecosystems and climate change.

In late 2010, a giant storm forced the canal to be temporarily closed for the first time since the United States. Invaded Panama in 1989, December was Panama’s wettest month in more than a century. This is roughly the same as the annual rainfall recorded in New York City’s Central Park. all year Officials had to release three months’ worth of fresh water into the sea.

Hurricanes are now getting closer to canals such as Eta and Iota, which hit Central America at the end of the Atlantic hurricane season late last year.

“The locks are designed for a more homogenous climate and less volatility. due to the new reality We have to change the process of water storage and management,” Vasquez said.

when the water level drops That’s a problem for ships that sometimes carry up to 13,000 containers at a time, said Lars Nielsen, head of Americas operations at Danish maritime giant AP Moller-Maersk A/S. During the dry season means higher costs. reduced fuel efficiency and more pollution

“It’s more like filling two smaller cars with your supermarket shopping” than filling one large car, he said.

Pressure on Panama’s watershed intensified after the $5 billion expansion of the canal’s locks in 2016 to accommodate larger ships. The growing urban population and agriculture have also drawn water from the area.

Deforestation increases the threat. The rainforest that surrounds the canal is now about half the size of its former size. This reduces the ability to act as a sponge and retain excess water. Control the water level for the area during the dry months. The Canal Authority, along with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, have planted more than 20,000 acres of forest along the watershed. But reforestation cannot solve the problem. canal officials said

“If you don’t start the dry season with the highest water levels You already have a problem. And this has happened more often in the last five or seven years,” Muschette said.

The pressure on Panama’s watersheds is growing as urban populations expand and agriculture draws water from the area.

write to Santiago Perez at santiago.perez@wsj.com

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