Navigation Links
Landslides: How rainfall dried up Panama's drinking water

To understand the long-term effects of a prolonged tropical storm in the Panama Canal watershed, Robert Stallard, staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and research hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, and Armando Ubeda, the LightHawk Mesoamerica program manager, organized four flights over the watershed to create a digital map of landslide scars.

Two feet of heavy rain inundated the Panama Canal watershed between Dec. 7 and 10, 2010. Landslides tore down steep slopes, choking rivers with sediment and overwhelming Panama City's water-treatment plant. Flooding closed the Panama Canal for the first time since 1935. Despite the deluge, the influx of sediments in the water forced authorities to shut down the plant, leaving a million residents of central Panama without clean drinking water for nearly a month.

LightHawk, a conservation organization based in the U.S., donates flights for research and conservation efforts. Retired United Airlines captain David Cole flew the Cessna 206 aircraft, and the four flights yielded images of 191 square miles (495 square kilometers) of watershed. Stallard observed numerous new landslide scars left behind by the December storm, supporting his prediction that landslides supplied much of the suspended sediment that disrupted Panama's water supply.

The new watershed erosion map will allow Stallard and collaborators from the Panama Canal Authority to calculate the landslide risk of future storms and direct strategies to minimize the effect on Panama's water supply.

Tropical hydrologists agree that river-borne sediment originates from surface erosion or from deep erosion from landslides. In 1985, Stallard predicted that "deep erosion, not shallow surface erosion, is the primary process controlling the chemistry and sediment levels in many tropical rivers that pass through mountainous areas." Few studies have been conducted to test this prediction.

Deforestation of steep slopes is the primary factor determining the number of landslides. Six decades of aerial photographs analyzed by USGS researchers in similar landscapes in Puerto Rico showed that landslide frequency doubles outside protected nature preserves, and that roads and infrastructure make landslides eight times more likely. Although landslides happen in natural forests, the objective is to limit their impact through appropriate land-use practices.

"With development, landslide intensity increases dramatically," said Stallard. "In its history, the Panama Canal watershed has experienced huge floods. It's still hard to say whether future floods will be accompanied by disastrous landslides like those produced by Hurricane Mitch in Central America." In 1998, Hurricane Mitch swept across Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador causing more than 10,000 deaths and incalculable economic damage. Panama's proximity to the equator puts the country outside the usual hurricane zone, but prolonged tropical storms may occur.

Erosion control is possible. Partnering with the Panama Canal Authority and Panama's Environmental Authority, the Smithsonian is conducting a 700 hectare experiment in the canal watershed funded by the HSBC Climate Partnership to compare the effects of land-use choices, such as cattle ranching or reforestation with native tree species on water supply, carbon storage and biodiversity. Stallard hopes that this research will provide new information about which land uses provide a steady supply of clean water for the Canal.

With the first rains in May, the eight-month wet season begins anew in central Panama. Drinking water flows freely, the rivers are clear and the Panama Canal is open for business. But bare slopes of past landslides continue to create secondary erosion, which will dislodge sediments from the steep, rainy and rugged Panama Canal watershed in 2011. The long-term effects of the 2010 storm may continue as renewed interruptions in the water supply in 2011.


Contact: Beth King
703-487-3770 x8216
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Related biology news :

1. University of Miami scientists find new way to estimate global rainfall and track ocean pollution
2. Volcanic eruptions affect rainfall over Asian monsoon region
3. Ethiopias climate 27 million years ago had higher rainfall, warmer soil
4. The sky is not falling: Pollution in eastern China cuts light, useful rainfall
5. American College of Medical Genetics affirms importance of newborn screening dried blood spots
6. Dried mushrooms slow climate warming in Northern forests
7. Study suggests lower risk of coronary heart disease from alcohol, even with hazardous drinking
8. NC State develops material to remove radioactive contaminants from drinking water
9. New review suggests drinking 100 percent fruit juice may offer disease-fighting benefits
10. Queens University scientists behind safer drinking water in US
11. University of Maryland School of Medicine study identifies genes associated with binge drinking
Post Your Comments:
Related Image:
Landslides: How rainfall dried up Panama's drinking water
(Date:3/31/2016)... , March 31, 2016 ... ) ("LegacyXChange" or the "Company") LegacyXChange is ... users of its soon to be launched online site ... ) will also provide potential shareholders ... of DNA technology to an industry that is notorious ...
(Date:3/23/2016)... 23, 2016 ... Gesichts- und Stimmerkennung mit Passwörtern     ... MESG ), ein führender Anbieter digitaler ... mit SpeechPro zusammenarbeitet, um erstmals dessen Biometrietechnologie ... die Möglichkeit angeboten, im Rahmen mobiler Apps ...
(Date:3/21/2016)... Massachusetts , March 22, 2016 ... facial recognition with passcodes for superior security   ... ), a leading provider of secure digital communications services, ... their biometric technology and offer enterprise customers, particularly those ... secure facial recognition and voice authentication within a mobile ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... 23, 2016 , ... Charm Sciences, Inc. is pleased to ... AOAC Research Institute approval 061601. , “This is another AOAC-RI approval of the ... Vice President of Regulatory and Industrial Affairs. “The Peel Plate methods perform comparably ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... June 23, 2016 , ... Supplyframe, the Industry Network ... Supplyframe Design Lab . Located in Pasadena, Calif., the Design Lab’s mission is ... projects are designed, built and brought to market. , The Design Lab is ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... BEACH, Calif. , June 23, 2016  Blueprint ... new biological discoveries to the medical community, has closed ... co-founder Matthew Nunez . "We have ... us with the capital we need to meet our ... will essentially provide us the runway to complete validation ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... , ... June 23, 2016 , ... ... quality, regulatory and technical consulting, provides a free webinar on Performing ... July 13, 2016 at 12pm CT at no charge. , Incomplete investigations are ...
Breaking Biology Technology: