Faults threaten Panama Canal

By Dorany Pineda

Consulting engineering geologist, Eldon Gath, lectured on the Panama Canal expansion project at the Foyer Auditorium on Tuesday, Nov. 24.

The Panama Canal Expansion Project, also known as the Third Set of Locks Project — began its growth in 2007 and is to be completed in 2016.

The expansion intends to meet the growing operational demands by doubling its capacity and allowing more and bigger ships to use the canal.

Wider and deeper existing channels and a new traffic lane are among some of the expansions being made.

The total cost for the expansion is estimated at $5.25 billion.

Gath lived and worked in Panama for five years investigating the earthquake geology surrounding the Panama Canal.

His role and that of his crew’s was to study faults within the region and identify if they were active.

“Active faults are the biggest threat to the project. Panama City has no earthquake design. The Canal will suffer severe damages if an earthquake design is not implemented into the project,” Gath said.

The looming threat of violent tectonic activity is the projects’ biggest threat.

The Pedro Miguel and Limon fault systems are the biggest concerns for geologists because they run beneath or close to the Panama Canal.

An earthquake occurring on either seismically active sites could potentially drain the lake that provides water for the operation of its locks.

The lock system of the Panama Canal lifts ships from the Pacific up to the Gatun Lake, then back down on to the Atlantic side of the Canal.

Gath said that an earthquake design would have two parts: a design to account for the shaking and a design for the displacement of the dam.

The research and findings of Gath and his crew of the geological and geomorphic expressions of faults surrounding the Panama Canal are critical factors in the design of its expansion.

The studies have large implications on the future of the Canal.

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