Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Widening the Panama Canal

Everyday, ships the size of a city block transport goods through the Panama Canal – a strategic 50-mile shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans that allows captains to shave thousands of miles off their routes. For nearly a century, the canal has permitted almost every type of ship imaginable to sail between the oceans. But for the first time ever, ships are being turned away in droves because they're simply too wide to fit through the narrow locks. It's time for the Panama Canal to "loosen up!?

Follow teams of European and American engineers as they compete for a winning lock design that will widen the Canal. Project planners try to strike a balance between risk and reward – a faulty design could lead to an accident that cripples world trade, but the increased shipping revenue from a wider canal would be monumental. Join designers as they struggle to enlarge the aging lock chambers, great slabs of steel that currently pass within inches of ships' hulls. Meanwhile, landscape architects navigate through treacherous mountain passes and guard against mudslides – a constant threat on the isthmus. This may just be the most extreme engineering project since the original canal was built.

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