Panama Canal to disappear in sinkhole

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The bottom of the Canal after the earthquake

REMEMBER how we reported that the Geological Institute of the University of Panama – in charge of monitoring volcanic and seismic activity – isn’t updating its data, and experts say the monitoring stations are in the wrong places, where heavy traffic and people interfere with readings? Boquete may very well suffer from the Barú volcano erupting, or earthquakes. We wouldn't know, because the University of Panama is totally corrupt, headed by a self-proclaimed "rector magnificus" who has never written any scientific publication and has a doctorate from a diploma mill.

And now it gets even worse, because the New Scientist reports:

The Panama canal is at greater risk of a catastrophic earthquake than previously assumed, a seismological survey of faults around the canal has warned.

It reveals that two known faults adjacent to the canal are far more active than previously thought, raising the possibility of a major quake just as the canal is being widened and upgraded in a project due for completion in 2014.

The authors of the survey estimate that quakes occur every 300 to 900 years. The most recent one was in 1621, so another could happen at any time.

At any time! Unsurprisingly, neither Panama City nor the Canal and its installations are ready for a major earthquake. The scientists are advising the Canal Authority on preparedness. A major earthquake, they say, could destroy locks and other buildings.

Luckily we have the foreign media. Through the Panamanian authorities and our news publications we'd never have heard about this.

24 thoughts on “Panama Canal to disappear in sinkhole

  1. The time line is 300 to 900 give or take several hundred years – so yeah, it could happen anytime or in 600 years….. if our time has come, well it has come. Nothing is forever. Look at the planet a million years ago. I don’t think it will stop to do what it has to do because there are so many of us on it now. I mean, is any place ready for any humongus natural catastrophe? Actually if they time it right nature itself can take care of the amplificacion del canal – and Martinelli will have the last laugh LOL

  2. It isn’t the first time that New Scientist is ringing the alarm bell. When I was living at one of the Canary Islands that pop-sci magazine published an article how the entire US East coast would be flattened by a monster-tsunami caused by a collapse (after eruption) of the large volcano at La Palma, which could happen any minute. The article appeared in many US publications with various flovors like this one:

    The Spanish press was furious due to the impact of such an article on tourism and scientists made efforts to explain that the collapse of the volcano was far less likely than the article suggested.

    But whereas at the Canary Islands seismic / volcanic monitoring is a single governmental issue, in Panama, several organizations are in charge:
    Earthquake Monitoring In Panama
    Eduardo Camacho Instituto de Geociencias Universidad de Panama
    The first seismic instrument in the Western Hemisphere was installed in Panama City, Panama by The French Canal Company in early 1882. This instrument recorded the great tsunamigenic earthquake (M8.0) of September 7, 1882, with epicenter offshore the northeast Caribbean coast of the Isthmus.

    BALBOA HEIGHTS PANAMA (BHP). Since 1909 the Panama Canal Company installed two sets of Bosch Omori seismographs at Balboa Heights Panama (BHP). In 1932 these instruments were replaced by two Wood Anderson seismographs and in 1934 the first accelerograph outside the continental USA was installed at BHP. All these instruments were replaced in 1962 by short period and long period instruments of the WWSSN. BHP operated uninterruptedly until 1977.

    UNIVERSITY OF PANAMA NETWORK (UPA). In 1983 the University of Panama received the WWSSN instruments that had operated at BHP before and installed them with the help of the USGS at the Panama City Campus.
    Nowadays the UPA has 5 one component short period telemetric analog stations. Additionally, there are one digital accelerograph and 3 three component short period digital stations linked via INTERNET.

    The analog records of the telemetric stations are digitized at the UPA observatory, at Panama City and the records from the three digital stations are digitized on site.

    In cooperation with the Geophysical Institute of the University of Mexico (UNAM), a STS-2 broad band sensor has been installed at the UPA observatory at Panama City

    In western Panama operates a private network which consists of 6 digital short period three component stations, deployed in that part of the country. The data transmission of this network is via INTERNET and the records are digitized on site..

    The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) operates since the beginning of 2005 a network of 3 short period 3 component digital stations and 4 digital accelerographs. This network is deployed around the Panama canal Basin.

    All seismic networks in Panama: UPA, CHIRINET and ACPN exchange data and cooperate very closely, through institutional agreements, to improve the seismic monitoring of the country.
    Predictions in pop-sci magazines are likely to be less reliable than the Panamanian monitoring agencies – unless they’re paid not to monitor, for instance by those who have a lot to gain from the construction of a competing Nicaraguan canal.

  3. You cannot, at least right now, even will all the gadgets out there, reliably predict an earthquake. The fact remains that large, destructive natural catastrophes will happen, as they have in the past, and there is very little we can do about it. So I would say live your life well, be nice to family, friends and neighbors, and the earth will do what it has always done. We are not extremely significant in the greater scheme of things. In the meantime it gives doom and gloom people something to…well…gloom and doom about.
    But hey, seriously now, this was very interesting reading. Thanks for passing this info along.

  4. It looks like only reasonable commentators are interested in that dooms day topic. Don’t the usual bunch of “left of Chavez” commentators have anything to opine about the psychological warfare used by Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega to take the pressure away from his own territory infringement of Costa Rica to build his own canal in Nicaragua?

  5. Geological events are always a very interesting topic, but we have such a short perspective on them it is hard to analyze them on a present day basis. But any of them could happen any day and would indeed have catastrophic consequences for all us. I find it hard though, to spend all my energy worrying about something so far out of my control and so unpredictable. Actually now that you mention conspiracy theory, i remember reading a book (fiction) where they were planning some kind of disaster, creating an earthquake (manipulating it) under some soviet sea to direct all of the oil or natural gas (I forget which) business away from there and to china. Something like that. The evilness of people never cease to amaze me, and I guess it could happen. But these natural catastrophes we are talking about will definitely put all of that nonsense to rest! The Nicaragua canal, now that’s a whole different topic. Does anyone have the title of a book (historical) about that one?

  6. Conspiration theory?!? Listen to the speech Daniel Ortega gave on televison two days ago in which he claims that he has the right to build a canal in the Rio San Juan and admits however having to indemnize Costa Rica for encroaching on its territory in the process. And guess who is giving him 100% support in this controversial endeavor? Yes, Iran’ Ahmadinedjad and Venezuela’s Chavez, of course dear Watson:,%202010

  7. Sorry, the conspiracy theory was the other poster….
    Well, why should they not build a canal there if they want to? They had a canal in Nicaragua on the drawing board before they started the Panama Canal.
    the first link i found there are many more. The conspiracy theory would be for “people” to pay the “watchers” of the Panama Canal so it can blow up so shippers will use the new Nica canal….. but we digress. We have to, since the comment section on the Friesner story has been CLOSED!!!!!!!!!!

    • Nicaragua has every right to build a canal. It was only intensive lobbying by the shareholders of the failed French bid in Panama that the Americans built the Canal in Panama instead of Nicaragua. And if Russia or Venezuela or Iran or China back a Nicraguan project, so what? The Americans built a Canal in Colombia a hundred years ago, so I don’t see the problem.

      In fact I think it might offer some long-needed competition for the snotty ACP.

  8. @frombocas:

    A breakthrough in earthquake prediction came from the use of artificial neural networks. They are fed with data from the sensors and “learn” to interpret with the help of supervising scientists. Work on it goes back to the mid 1980s:
    but much more on the issue is available like
    Also mentioned in the archive of the Journal of Earthquake Prediction Research:

    As Panama doesn’t have a single department (of geology) in charge of all monitoring but uses a hodgepodge of instrumentation, some privately owned, it’s unlikely the data can be easily fed into an artificial neural network that continues to make better predictions over time.

    Such a network, also fed with data from other earthquake-prone countries in the region should be a common priority IOW beyond local (pork barrel) politics.

    But perhaps there isn’t even a proper science budget, which also was suggested by the cost of about $25,000,000 for the “free Internet” project that could have been realized for a fraction of the price and much faster as well.

  9. If there ar active seismic faults near the PanCanal, and if they were to suddenly become active I am quite sure this would have some effect on Panama City and particularly those empty Patilla skyscrapers. Luckily there will be minimal human casualties as a result.

  10. Demand for oil is expected to exceed production between 2011 and 2015. What that will do to global trade and oil importing nations in general needs no comment as that has been provided already by the military. Those with knowledge of German might enjoy this:

    When global trade is to decrease, one might wonder what the return on investment from another canal will be. But by the time the Nicaraguan canal gets inaugurated, it might also be of little use because then, the Arctic passage could be used most of the year, due to global warming.

  11. @JanB,
    Panama has very little interest in monitoring seismic activity, no one makes money with silly graphs and charts. There is no serious effort or ability to even provide the most basic of early warning. If Panama did have the capacity, it would falsify the results as to not disturb the status quo and let thousands of people die.

    It is one thing to say that the New Scientist article is pop-sci or alarmist but the results upon which they rely are not disputed. Everyone who warns of an earthquake tomorrow has a almost certain chance of being wrong. Does that make him an alarmist? Perhaps, until one happens here. Then when it does all the shoddy construction, greedy falsification of engineering data, and corruption driven optimism will cause a disaster of much greater than necessary proportions.

    Remember we are lead by people who have caused massive public poisoning with their own slaphappy labs, who had a captive audience to ingest the automobile antifreeze they bottled as medicine because they thought what was good enough for the windshield would sure put an end to Grannieś cough. Those that started the chain of corruption that led to this disaster, the Chinese wholesalers, were executed for their follies. What happened here? The bodies were cremated and exhumation orders denied to bury the evidence, no pun intended. No one even received an apology.

    Then we have the buses. Imported buses that required flammable gas to operate their air conditioning. A gas cooling system banned in almost the entirety of the remainder of the countries in the world. Why a flamable gas…it was cheaper! Even more savings were achieved eliminating fire escapes. Who not only allowed this insane system but required the bus drivers to use these buses? The Panamanian Government.

    There are those that will say ..quit belly-caching,this is the third world.. But these were not mistakes, they were deliberate choices based on unfettered greed, corruption and unaccountability. And they are unconscionable acts in a country that has Panamaś income, whether it be from the laundry sector, the canal or the inflow of foreign capital.

    So Jan forgive me if I am not convinced by your synopsis of Panamanian seismic expertise.

    Iĺl take the pop-sci predictions any day over the greed-sci denials.

  12. All those who “take the pop-sci predictions” seriously are putting themselves and their loved ones at great risk by staying here in Panama. I strongly suggest that they pack their stuff as soon as possible and move to Nicaragua, where (as we all know) there is no risk of earthquake and even less risk of Government in denial.

    • @Xio: The US canal was eventually not built in Nicaragua because of volcanic activity. But anyway, you seem to take a Nicaraguan canal as an insult to your country? Why?

  13. @Editor: It took Panama almost a century to acquire full sovereignty over the Canal Zone, so why on earth should Panamanians let a so called “Pais Hermano” like Nicaragua and its less than repectable sponsors threaten its hard-earned and well-deserved Prize? In my humble opinion, Ortega, Chavez and Ahmadinedjad are envious and try by all means (including psychological warfare) to harm Panama.
    I for one, am committed to fight back and make sure that Ortega’s (wet) dream of a redundant canal in Nicaragua never sees the light of the day.

  14. @Faustino

    Not only the Panamanian govt shows no interest in public safety / health, it’s a habit of “big boss” Washington (remember Katrina, the experiments on humans, also in Latin America etc.) too. And as the boss is always right, no surprise here.

    But while one has to wait for an earthquake to assess more flawed construction due to ignoring laws, with health the evidence is too obvious to be overlooked (obesity & diabetes epidemic that could have been cured via diet). So when govt looks the other way with one issue, it is likely to do the same with other issues.

    Once that is noticed, one no longer relies on govt but has to do the math (and other science) oneself, instead of believing pop-sci magazines that always need a hefty dose of exaggeration to improve sales.

    Central America is part of the “ring of fire”, a region around the Pacific with relatively high volcanic and earthquake activity. That region includes coastal waters. One of the predictions of global warming theory is that due to the melting of ice, pressure on the crust changes and with that, tension in tectonic plates, resulting in a higher incidence of earthquakes.

    This might not result in a higher incidence on land though. Because the crust in the ocean is thinner, increased tension might result in cracks / volcanic eruptions there first. That in turn might relieve enough tension to either prevent or lessen the magnitude of quakes on land.

    Volcanic eruptions / cracks through which magma escapes do not even reach pop-sci magazines but the events can be observed nevertheless, via a Sea Surface Temperature map like this one:

    With that page as home page, it could have been noticed that the temperature of coastal waters near Mexico / Guatemala / El Salvador has increased although due to la Niña it should have decreased. When such heating events would be absent for more than 6 months, it would be time to make a few preparations.

  15. @ XIO

    Both Venezuela and China might have a combined interest interest in a new canal. Oil export from Venezuela to China is to increase and at the cost of a reduced export to the heavily indebted (read bankrupt) US.

    Tensions between China and the US are likely to increase as well and eventually to a point where delaying / blocking oil transport for China via the Panama canal could become a strategic interest for Washington.

    Preventing that scenario without the hassle of shipping around Cape Horn means another canal, owned / protected by allies.

  16. So, Xio, how exactly do you plan to “fight back” against Nicaraguan attempts at building a Canal? Is a canal patented technology that nobody but Panama is allowed to use? How about Suez (a REAL competitor to Panama)? Are you gonna “fight back” against melting ice up north as well?

    Simon Bolivar already saw a future for Central America with multiple inter-oceanic canals. And as the ACP continues to raise its fees to finance its white elephant expansion project, there are opportunities to compete. Surely you wouldn’t think Panama couldn’t build a canal if Nicaragua already had one?

  17. How would I fight back? Well, I would use the same “weapons” as Daniel Ortega in his psychological war against Panama and Costa Rica, as follows:
    – Using the enormous influence the worldwide ecological lobby and media network to demonstrate the negative impacts of digging a sink hole on the marvelous natural wonders of Nicaragua. Greenpeace might be helpful in this.
    – Bribing News organization to convey negative articles about Nicaragua like it being a heaven and transit point for the drug trade and money laundering.
    – Spreading the same old desinformation arguments used so effectively by Philippe Buneau-Varilla more than a century ago (volcano in eruption) and also reminding the public of the more recent Managua earthquakes.
    – Supporting Costa Rica in its legitimate outrage against Nicaragua who took the initiative to send its army across Rio San Juan invading in Costa Rica’s territory.

    Now, if all that does’nt work and a Nicaragua canal actually sees the day of light, I would make sure that the Panamanians give better service and better value to the shipping industry of the world.

  18. Xio,

    Wow. I got my canal first so you can’t have one?

    Nicaragua is a sovereign state that has every right to improve it’s infrastructure.

    As far as getting better service from the Panama canal, that will not happen until there is real local competition.

    It would be great to see Nicaragua with a canal, they sure need some luck after the the damage wreaked by from hurricane Mitch and Ronald Reagan.

    A canal for Nicaragua as a wet dream. Sounds more like the proverbial 100 virgins to me. However, if you believe it to be a redundant dreamy venture, then why the hostility?

    Or is it that you don’t like Ortega’s backers? But who else will finance it? Citi Bank probably turned them down.

    “Pais hermano”? What was the last act of brotherly love Panama showed Nicaragua: Noriega helping Ollie North move his illegal guns to attack Ortega? Martinelli militarizing Panama in his war on drugs (socialism as a new class of illicit drug that is).

    With brothers like the Panamanians who wouldn’t adopt Chavez into the family?

    As far as Panama receiving the canal: Good for them. It was a adept negotiation on the part of Torrijos and his team. Too bad the vast majority of Panamanians haven’t gotten their share yet.

    Your battle plan of disinformation and general sleaze certainly comes from the classic rock of the CIA and the School of Americas. But you guys need some new music. The old stuff was sure macho and good for the movie soundtracks. But almost all of that goofy spy stuff usually resulted in shit storms that rained all the US respectability and left the US as the beacon of hope and freedom it is today!!…Sold a lot of guns and made a lot of peasants lives miserable though. Why is it many Panamanian’s choose to imitate the worst of American culture and politics? Individualism, hard work, apple pie even dental floss…all good. But why the sleazy geo-politics?

    As far as the canal as hard earned and well deserved prize: now that’s a vivid imagination.

  19. @Jan,

    Pop-sci pieces are the movie trailers of science for an audience of non- experts. There job is to sell the story. They attempt to make science more flavourful to non scientists. They exaggerate and unreliably extend scientific hypothesis. However they often spark a desire to investigate further and result in a better informed public. Your diabetes example is perfect. There has been lots of junk science about food/ health claims that has, by shear saturation, lead to a greater general awareness of the diet/health connection.

    Unfortunately the government here, completely unrestrained by accountability or the slightest degree of humanity, will lie, misinform, and deny access to any truths that reduce their looting binges, question their integrity or hurt their pathetic sense of honour. Sure, it sounds like the US, UK or other democracies. But taken to the unrestrained extremes, it has become a sickening pantomime. Panamanian politicians are the creepy characters in cartoons that give 5 year olds nightmares.

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