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Innovative Geosynthetic Technology Saves 100-Year-Old Panama Canal Locks

The Panama Canal opened for business 105 years ago and was hailed as the eighth wonder of the world and an engineering marvel of the time. Since 1914, the originally three sets of dual parallel lane locks are still in operation in their original chamber dimensions of 33m wide x 300m long x 12m deep. However, ships have become larger and the tugs to maneuver them in and out of the locks have become more powerful. The latest version of Panama Canal tug is a 25m long 4,400 HP tug of azimuthal propulsion. With this increase in tug power prop wash combined with the continual flow of water out of the canal has created erosion along the dividing wall foundation and 2.0m thick approach slab. This erosion reached the extent that all three sets of locks were in danger of a catastrophic structural collapse. Scour erosion was detected using sonar digital imaging in areas to -20m of depth. This paper will detail how the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) Engineering and Maintenance Division’s used an innovative technology and marine construction techniques to keep the canal operating 24 hours a day without any unscheduled interruptions to tonnage of operations. The paper will detail the science of testing of this innovative technology and the resulting design that enabled this process to successfully solve the erosion problem using more than 300 sand-filled geotextile bag units that weighed up to 90 metric tons each.