Could one (and how much) generate electricity by building a wall connecting:

  1. South Africa to Antarctica
  2. South America to Antarctica
  3. Northern Canada to Northern Greenland
  4. Northern Greenland to Russia

(Pretty much isolating the Atlantic from the Pacific) and installing a generator in the Panama canal.

(Also, which ocean would be higher)

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Hmm... It's not an answer to the question as asked, but I'm pretty certain that doing what you are proposing would wreak havoc with ocean currents, leading to all kinds of mayhem (though perhaps not quite as extreme as depicted in The Day After Tomorrow). $\endgroup$
    – user
    Jun 17, 2016 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ About a century ago, there was a plan to do something like that within the Mediterranean. Though maybe slightlty more realistic than your idea, it remained only an idea. You might find some interesting ideas by reading about it en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantropa $\endgroup$
    – Fiksdal
    Jun 18, 2016 at 18:05

2 Answers 2


Your premise is flawed

Unlike for instance the Corinth Canal...

This is not the Panama canal

The Corinth Canal, not the Panama Canal

...the Panama Canal is not a gouge that runs all the way down to sea level.

The Panama canal runs over the Isthmus of Panama and requires lifting ships in the canal by about 26 meters above sea level.

Profile of the Panama canal Profile of the Panama Canal

Another bad premise is that you assume that the oceans would somehow end up at significantly different levels. There is no reason to assume that.

Also there is a slight flaw(*) in that you have completely underestimated the amount of work it would take to build a wall over many hundreds of kilometers to a depth of several kilometers.

But don't worry... you are not the only one that are underestimating the woes of building big walls. A potential future US president also cannot get it right. :D

(*) Read: a huge one... show-stopper in fact. ;)

  • $\begingroup$ The OP (Mpme) didn't give a lot of details about what would or wouldn't be feasible engineering in his hypothetical world, but given that the higher tech a culture is the easier large construction projects become I don't see any reason why cutting a sea-level canal through panama would be inconceivable at some point in the future. Alien orbital anti-matter beams if we want to hand-wave. $\endgroup$ Jun 19, 2016 at 11:29
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkRipley You missed the point. The question like asking "If I can use real magic, is it feasible that I can use that to improve my sleight of hands skills?". Why bother? Use the magic instead. If we have "alien orbital anti-matter beams" — or any other Handwavium-based source of energy that can let us build such a wall, then it follows that no-one is going to give a tuppenny cuss about a puny hydro-turbine. If we can(!) build that wall, then we don't need the turbine. We just use that Handwavium-based energy to plug into whatever it was that we intended that turbine to supply power to. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Jun 19, 2016 at 11:42
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkRipley And in any case the point is mooted — twice — before even before we ponder the energy required to build the wall since 1) the Panama Channel is not level with the oceans and 2) the height difference between the oceans would be insignificant to drive a turbine. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Jun 19, 2016 at 11:44
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not saying that as a society we currently do projects with very long ROI, but I can conceive of a project like that requires a large upfront cost and then provides almost free power forever after that. One way to reduce cost would be to just drill a below sea level tunnel from one side to another. If you are not using it for shipping, all you need is a path large enough for the water. That is within current tech and wouldn't require a lot of hand-waving. $\endgroup$ Jun 19, 2016 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkRipley Would you invest 10 billion dollars for an annual return of 1 dollar, as long as that return lasted until the eventual heat death of the universe? If so I am more than willing to oblige you... just send those 10 billions dollars to me and we can get started. Rate of return matters, not just the amount of return. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Jun 19, 2016 at 11:54

The Pacific Ocean is higher by about 20 cm due to differences in Salinity and tidal variation. Your prompt is partially flawed because you are under the assumption that the oceans are level at the panama canal but this is not the case. Additionally, the locks at the Canal are to compensate for the differences in elevation across the canal (it slopes slight up as you move inland). You would need to build a new canal.

Let's assume you get the ideal conditions described in your prompt, then there would be a slight current from Pacific to Atlantic that could in theory support a turbine. Cecil Adams notably addressed this in the late 80s.


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