On January 1, 2018 angry aliens decide to show humanity just who's boss. So they vaporize an area of land 1 mile deep and 10 wide, centered around the Panama Canal.

Some preliminary facts that we know:

  • The Pacific side is ~20 feet higher than the Atlantic, due to the pressure of a current. I anticipate a huge flow of water from the Pacific side, which might initially scour the new passage larger, and would likely persist as the equatorial counter current pushes through.

  • The former isthmus has separated the two oceans for millions of years; there has been some recent leakage due to the Canal, but in "retail" amounts not wholesale.

What are the effects on our ocean ecosystems?

  • $\begingroup$ I read a story a long time ago, probably in Analog, where geology and tectonics destroyed the Panama isthmus. The results were, well, unpleasant. I'll rewrite my comment as an answer should I find the story. $\endgroup$ – Codes with Hammer Jan 15 at 20:24

The difference in sea level between the Pacific and the Atlantic is primarily due to tidal differences and salinity differences. If a channel were to be cut across the Isthmus of Panama as you describe, the salinity difference in that area would eventually even itself out. The tidal differences would probably create currents that flowed in and out of the channel on a daily basis as they do in many other parts of the world such as the Straights of Dover in the English Channel.

There would be cross contamination of the sea flora and fauna between oceans. although a more serious concern might be what happens to the 500 odd cubic miles of volatilized rock?

  • $\begingroup$ That's a pretty long 'eventually' Even at cubic miles a day, you have a lot of cubic miles of both oceans. Not clear to me that the gulf tide would ever be high enough to back flow. Remember that with a narrow gap, the rise and fall of tides are going to be close to synchronous, baring tidal resonances. $\endgroup$ – Sherwood Botsford Sep 17 '17 at 20:38

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.