- Ships carrying cargo through the Panama Canal asked to lighten their loads after a recent drought depleted the basin’s water levels.
- The drought is believed to be related to El Nino, a weather phenomenon where warm ocean temperatures in the Pacific lead to drier than usual conditions in some areas.
- Panama’s Canal Authority said this year marked “the driest dry season in the history we’ve had of the canal”.
The country’s Canal Authority said this year has been the “driest dry season“ in the canal’s 106-year history, says an article published in SkyNews.
Ships advised to lighten the load
Ships carrying cargo through the Panama Canal are being asked to lighten their loads after a recent drought depleted the basin’s water levels.
The drought is believed to be related to El Nino, a weather phenomenon where warm ocean temperatures in the Pacific lead to drier than usual conditions in some areas and wetter conditions in others.
Driest season in history
Panama’s Canal Authority said this year marked “the driest dry season in the history we’ve had of the canal“.
It noted that water levels in the Gatun Lake, a major part of the global shipping route, were 1.4m (4.6ft) below normal for the time of year, and had decreased more than 0.2m (0.5ft) since the beginning of the month.
Climate researchers with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute say the effects of the drought could have been “much worse“ had it not been for one of the wettest rainy seasons on record in the area last year. But Steve Paton, the head of the organization’s long-term monitoring department, said the canal’s wider outlook was “difficult to forecast“.
He said: “We are observing in the canal area that climatic vents are becoming increasingly extreme.“
If such extreme conditions continue, he warned the canal could reach dangerously low water levels in the next 15 years. Mr. Paton also pointed out that the area’s biggest droughts and storms had all occurred in the last two decades.
Rainfall is vital to Panama’s citizens as it supplies a 1,300-square-mile watershed, which in turn makes up 95% of drinking water for the capital, Panama City, and Colon, cities which are home to half the nation’s population.
Despite last year’s water reserves alleviating immediate worries about drinking water, tourist-reliant communities situated near the basin have been affected.
A resident of one indigenous community on the Gatun River said tourists were running into difficulties when trying to dock their motorboats. “This is the strongest drought we can recall,” the resident said.
In the meantime, several measures at the basin have been put in place, such as water recycling in new locks and pausing hydroelectric power generation at Gatun. However, the Canal Authority has emphasized that these are just short-term measures. In the medium term, Panama will need to consider building more water reserves, it said.
Placing restrictions on cargo also means canal operators stand to earn less money as they charge shipping companies on factors including a ship’s capacity and its cargo. Work to expand the canal was completed in 2016 to make way for larger vessels.
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