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1018. Low Water Levels in the Panama Canal Caused by El Niño

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1018. Low Water Levels in the Panama Canal Caused by El Niño


Since June 2023, the authorities in charge of the Panama Canal have been regulating the number and size of vessels passing through the Panama Canal in response to historically low water levels in Gatun Lake, which functions as the Panama Canal's water conservation mechanism, contributing to disruptions in global supply chains.

World Weather Attribution, which analyzes the causal relationship between extreme events and climate change, cites El Niño as a factor that influenced the loss of water in the Panama Canal.

Historically, low water levels tend to occur after less rainfall during the rainy season. The lake's water volume was seasonally low in the first three months of 2024, but is expected to recover once the rainy season begins in May.

Under the current climate of 1.2°C warming, the El Niño phenomenon will reduce precipitation by 8% compared to the ENSO steady state, and therefore there is a high possibility of low water levels such as this one, which is estimated to occur every 40 years. On the other hand, climate models could not conclude that this drought was caused by human-induced climate change.

El Niño is also reported to be a major contributor to recent major floodings in southern Brazil and East Africa, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has forecasted that El Niño may end in June, followed by the La Niña phenomenon.

Contributor: IIYAMA Miyuki (Information Program)


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