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The Suez Canal is a man-made waterway in Egypt that provides the shortest route between the east and the west of the globe for cargo transportation. The canal divides Asia and Africa by connecting the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.
The length of the Suez Canal is 160.3 km, estimated between the beacon in Port Said harbor and the sign station at Port Tewfik. A major portion of the Suez Canal (120 km length) belongs to the canal proper and the remaining 40 km length lies in the Bitter lake.
The width of the Suez Canal, at the water level, varies somewhere in the range of 180 and 200 m, and the float width, which demonstrates the width of the safe channel, is around 110 m. The canal was constructed in a trapezoidal cross-section with an average wet area of 1800 m2. The side slope of the banks varies between 1:4 to 1: 2.5, depending on the nature of the soil.
At present, the minimum depth of the Suez Canal is maintained in such a way that ships with draughts up to 11.6 m can be allowed to transit. This implies that the containers weighing 60,000 tons deadweight can be transported in a completely loaded condition. The containers with 100,000 tons deadweight can be transported in a somewhat half-loaded condition.
The Suez Canal is considered to be the world’s biggest economic route as ships save a lot of fuel by traveling through it compared to the route of Cape of Good Hope. For instance, the percentage savings in the distance compared to the Cape of Good Hope route are 65% for Bombay to Odessa, 25% for Tokyo to Rotterdam, and 45% for Arabian Gulf to London.
It is feasible for a ship to make one trip per month through Suez Canal on the Arabian Gulf-Central Europe run against one trip per two months through the Cape of Good Hope. Therefore, the decrease in transport expenses is generally in the range of 40% to 60%.
1. Profile of the Suez Canal
A depression exists between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Pelusium, which is marked by Lake Timsah and Bitter Lake. Some of the undulations formed by the depression are also noticed between Lake Timsah and Lake Manzala.
Along the path of the Suez Canal, there exists a natural depression. The lowest portion of which is the basin of the lakes. Further, along the route, the level of ground is above the level of the ocean at three areas, Chaluf (36 feet), El Guisr (59 feet), and Serapeum (35 feet).
The initial segment of the Suez Canal is Lake Manzala. The depth of Lake Manzala is 4 to 5 feet. This depth was not enough for ships to navigate, so the canal was excavated for a length of 50 km in the Lake Manzala portion.
The terrain reaches Kantara where for around 5 km, it continues as a small tongue of land which isolates the great lake from Lake Ballah.
Following this, there is a region expanding for almost 15 km and comprising a series of hills in El Guisr. This section is around 16 km long and rises around 55 feet above the water surface level.
After this comes the Serapeum plateau. This plateau extends for around 9 km and the highest point on the plateau is around 35 feet above the water surface level. Further, the straight course continues down to the Suez, where another plateau called El Chalouf is found.
2. Geology of the Suez Canal
The following points describe the geology of the Suez Canal:
- Before constructing the Suez Canal, a very soft clay extending up to 33 km length, resulting from the rich Nile deposits, was found between Port Said to Lake Manzala. The depth of soft clay was 5 feet.
- Due to the very soft nature of the soil, three major problems were encountered. Firstly, the excavation of the soft soil and second, the construction of the canal foundation on soft soil. Lastly, the utilization of the excavated soft soil for the construction of the bank was also a challenge.
- During the construction of the canal in Chalouf cutting, a regular ledge of rock was encountered. However, the designers chose a short curve to avoid the rock on the route of the canal.
- Till Chalouf area, the rock was present at 17 feet depth below the water surface. However, after the Chalouf area, the thickness of the rock stratum suddenly increased from a few inches to 8 feet for around 100 yards.
- The El Guisr section was a major problem during the excavation of the canal because the section was made up of a series of sand hills. Therefore, the excavation of sand represented a significant problem because more than 70 feet depth of sand had to be removed with a total volume of 60 million cubic yards.
- At the lower part of Bitter Lake, an unprecedented band of salt of 7-miles in length and 5-miles in width was found. It was expected that it would need to be managed like a rock. However, the salt band was easily dissolved in water by crushing it.
3. Construction of Suez Canal
The Suez Canal was constructed using a combination of state-of-the-art machinery and forced peasant labor. The chief contractors of the Suez Canal were two men of remarkable energy and assets, Bore and Lavalley, who assumed control over the work in 1865. They thought that the work could be accomplished with the use of machines. Therefore, they acquired powerful dredgers to suit the geological conditions of the Suez Canal.
The size of the dredgers was selected based on the requirement of the work and the disposal of the excavated materials. Mostly, three different sizes of dredgers were used by the contractor.
The capacity of the smallest dredger was 15-horse power, next came intermediate dredgers of 40-horse power capacity, and lastly the biggest dredger was of 80-horse power capacity. The biggest dredger, costing £20,000, was 120 feet long, with a 30 feet long beam, and had drums 50 feet over the water surface level.
At the opening of the Suez Canal, the width measured at the bottom of both ends was 72 feet. Smaller dimension of width was implemented to save the cost in large cuttings. The excavation of the Suez Canal was done mainly according to the following points:
- The width of the canal at the water surface was kept at 196 feet to provide more access to vessels.
- The depth of the canal was kept at 26 feet.
- The width of the bottom base was kept at 72 feet and hence a trapezoidal shape of the canal was selected with a side slope of 2 horizontal to 1 vertical.
- If the depth for cutting was required to be more than 26 feet, then one or more horizontal benches of 10 feet in width were provided at the base.
- The slope of the canal bank was 4 horizontal to 1 vertical and slopes were connected by a horizontal bench of 60 feet.
The excavation in the Serapeum area was the most difficult one for the project contractor. Workers were not able to excavate the ground manually. Therefore, the contractor utilized the dredgers as follows:
- The canal soil was heaped up at the point from where the water had to be brought from the Mediterranean Sea.
- After that, manual digging was done by the workers up to a certain depth.
- The manually excavated material was piled up at the end close to Bitter Lake.
- Both the ends were blocked for the water to enter the excavation site and hence transformed the freshwater canal into the excavation site.
- After that, the dredgers were brought in for the excavation. Dredgers were taken to the freshwater canal through the Maritime Canal from Port Said to Ismailia.
- Lock gates provided in the freshwater canal raised the level of the dredgers 17 feet above sea level.
- After that, the cross-cutting was done from the Maritime canal to the line of work on the freshwater canal. This process provided the required elevation so that the dredgers could float.
- After the dredger machines had dug the necessary depth of the canal, the linking with the freshwater canal was closed.
- Also, the dam created in the route of the Suez Canal to stop the flow of water was removed.
- After removing the dam, the level of the freshwater lake was brought to that of the ocean level.
- The dredgers were plunging simultaneously and continued digging the canal to the required depth.
- Through Bitter Lake and Lake Timsah, only the lower section was excavated because the ground level was low and the required depth of water for navigation was easily available.
When ships travel through the Suez Canal, the percentage savings in the distance compared to the Cape of Good Hope route are 65% for Bombay to Odessa, 25% for Tokyo to Rotterdam, and 45% for Arabian Gulf to London.
The length of the Suez Canal is 160.3 km, estimated between the beacon in Port Said harbor and the sign station at Port Tewfik. A major portion of the Suez Canal with 120 km length belongs to the canal proper and 40 km length lies in the Bitter lake.
The width of the Suez Canal at water level varies somewhere in the range of 180 and 200 m and the float width, which demonstrates the width of the safe channel, is around 110 m.
The Suez Canal was constructed in a trapezoidal cross-section with an average wet area of 1800 m2.
The side slope of the banks varies between 1:4 to 1: 2.5, depending on the nature of the soil.
At present, the minimum depth of the Suez Canal is maintained in such a way that ships with draughts up to 11.6 m can be allowed to transit. This implies that containers with 60,000 tons deadweight can be transported in a completely loaded condition. The containers with 100,000 tons deadweight can be transported in somewhat half loaded condition.
The chief contractors for the Suez Canal construction were two men of remarkable energy and assets, Bore and Lavalley, who assumed control over the work in 1865.