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Characterization of Gatun Lake's Hydrodynamic Behaviour and Water Quality

Author(s): Maria G. Castrellon; Ioana Popescu

Linked Author(s): Ioana Popescu

Keywords: Panama canal; Gatun lake; Saltwater intrusion; Hydrodynamic modelling; Delft3D

Abstract: Gatun Lake, located in the Panama Canal Watershed (PCW), is the main source of freshwater for the Canal's operations and it provides drinking water for nearly 600,000 people, which represents roughly 15% of the country's population. Since its creation at the beginning of the 20th century, Gatun Lake has slowly been transitioning from a swamp environment to a more saline-governed ecosystem. However, since the completion of the Canal's expansion project and inauguration of the Neo-Panamax locks in 2016, salinity in the lake has been increasing at a faster pace. The progressive salinization of this water body is not only a concern from the perspective of drinking water supply and human health, but for the lake's biodiversity as well. In order to understand the magnitude of this issue, evaluate the impact of climate change and design effective mitigation and management strategies, robust modelling tools are required. Nevertheless, these tools often require high volumes of high-quality data that are not always readily available. This paper illustrates the characterization of Gatun Lake's hydrodynamic behaviour and water quality condition using a numerical model built with Delft3D and publicly available open data, which includes bathymetry from GEBCO and hydrodynamic data from ACP's AQUARIUS web portal. Although further refinement of the model is still required, overall, it was demonstrated that reasonably good results can be obtained through a model built using publicly available open data.


Year: 2023

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