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Video | Five years of construction on the Panama Canal extension

Water saving basins by the locks

Earthcam has released timelapse footage of the construction of the major Panama Canal expansion project showing progress from March 2011 to June 2016. 

The $5.2bn (£3.1bn) expansion programme was the most significant construction project on the canal since it opened in 1914. The project involved the construction of the so-called “third set of locks”: two complexes of three-step locks, including three basins for the reuse of water per chamber, with one set on the Pacific side and another on the Atlantic. 

The new expanded locks are 427m long, 55m wide and 18.3m deep, 21m wider and 5.5m deeper than those in the original canal, but use less water due to water-saving basins that recycle 60% of the water used per transit, said the Panama Canal Authority. The system of sliding sluice gates allows ships to rise 27m above sea level to the sail across Gatún Lake after which they are lowered to sea level by the other set of locks.

Construction on the mega project started in 2007 and it has been built by Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), a consortium comprising Spanish contractor Sacyr, Italian contractor Salini Impregilo, the Netherland’s Jan De Nul and Constructora Urbana of Panama (CUSA).

The project has been dogged with problems and in 2014 work was halted for two weeks after GUPC stopped work after disputes over cost overruns.

The expansion project was carried out to increase the navigation capacity of the canal by almost doubling the cargo traffic from 330M.t to 600M.t per year and increasing the capacity for ships from 12,000 to up to 16,000 per year. It will also allow the passage of larger vessels, the so-called Post-Panamax ships, carrying up to 12,000 containers each.

New Panama Canal facts and figures

  • There are three chambers of locks on each side, with each chamber measuring 427m long by 55m wide by 18.3m deep
  • 16 gates, the largest of which is 33m high and weighs 4,300t
  • 4.5M.m3 of structural concrete poured, the equivalent of two Great Pyramids of Giza
  • 220,00t of reinforcing steel, comparable to 22 Eiffel Towers
  • 62M.m3 of extracted earth, equal to 2.6M dumper truck loads
  • 7.1Mm3 dredged, the equivalent of 2,840 Olympic-size swimming pools
  • 5,000m3 of concrete poured daily on each side of the project
  • Over 4,200 animals have been rescued and relocated.

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