The Panama Canal's Newest Gates are Truly Gargantuan

By Andrew Tarantola on at

By linking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the Panama Canal revolutionised global shipping when it opened nearly a century ago. However, the canal's capabilities are quickly being outpaced by the ever-growing ships that pass through it. In order to accommodate the next generation of over-sized vessels, the Panama Canal is receiving its most ambitious upgrade in 93 years—a third channel hemmed in by these gargantuan flood gates.

The Panama Canal's Newest Gates Are Truly Gargantuan

Each of these 16 gates, built by Italian steel manufacturer Cimolai, stands nearly 10 stories tall, weighs an estimated 3,100 tons, and costs a whopping $34.2 million produce and install. Eight will be installed on each end of the new third channel as part of an eight-year $5.2 billion public works project designed to double the shipping lane's capacity by 2015.

The Panama Canal's Newest Gates Are Truly Gargantuan

The third channel under construction Image: AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco

The Panama Canal expansion project was originally proposed by then-president Martín Torrijos in 2006 and billed as vital to Panama's future prosperity. A public referendum held later that year saw 76.8 per cent of Panamanians vote in support of the project, as did the national assembly. The expansion plan calls for not only digging out the third channel begun by the Americans in 1939 but abandoned at the outset of WWII in 1942, but deepening and widening the two existing channels and raise the maximum operating level of Gatun Lake as well.

The Panama Canal's Newest Gates Are Truly Gargantuan

The existing locks are simply too narrow and too shallow to handle the next generation of shipping vessels Image: Stan Shebs

See the existing channels can only support current Panmax vessels less than 115 feet wide and 1,050 feet long with a draft of 41 feet or less. However the new locks will be 1,400 ft long, 180 ft wide, and 60 ft deep, allowing naval engineers to design larger "New Panmax" supply ships.

The Panama Canal's Newest Gates Are Truly Gargantuan

a barge floats two of the new rolling gates into position Image: AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco

A series of 18 water-saving basins will fill and empty these locks using only the power of gravity—just as the current channels do—as ships pass from one end to the other. However, the new channel will not rely on locomotives to position vessels within the locks—as the two original channels do—they'll rely on more modern tugs instead. [Wired - Wiki]