Suez Canal Geography, History & Blockage YouTube Lecture Handouts

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Suez Canal: Geography, History - Suze Crisis, Port Said, Port Twefik, Lessepsian Migration, Blockage

Title: Suez Canal Geography, History & Blockage

  • The canal, which separates Africa from the Middle East and Asia, is one of the busiest trade routes in the world with about 12 % of total global trade moving through it. It provides the shortest link between Asia and Europe.
  • From north to south, the crossings are:
  • The Suez Canal Bridge also called the Egyptian-Japanese Friendship Bridge, a high-level road bridge at El Qantara. In Arabic, al qantara means “arch” . Opened in 2001, it has a 70-metre (230 ft) clearance over the canal and was built with assistance from the Japanese government and by Kajima.
  • El Ferdan Railway Bridge 20 km north of Ismailia was completed in 2001 and is the longest swing-span bridge in the world, with a span of 340 m. The previous bridge was destroyed in 1967 during the Arab-Israeli conflict. The current bridge is no longer functional due to the expansion of the Suez Canal, as the parallel shipping lane completed in 2015 just east of the bridge lacks a structure spanning it.
  • Pipelines taking fresh water under the canal to Sinai, about 57 km north of Suez.
  • Ahmed Hamdi Tunnel south of the Great Bitter Lake was built in 1983. Because of leakage problems, a new water-tight tunnel was built inside the old one from 1992 to 1995.
  • The Suez Canal overhead powerline crossing was built in 1999.
  • There is one shipping lane with passing areas in Ballah-Bypass near El Qantara and in the Great Bitter Lake. On a typical day, three convoys transit the canal, two southbound and one northbound. The passage takes between 11 and 16 hours at a speed of around 8 knots. The low speed helps prevent erosion of the banks by ships՚ wakes.
  • There is one shipping lane with passing areas in Ballah-Bypass near El Qantara and in the Great Bitter Lake. On a typical day, three convoys transit the canal, two southbound and one northbound. The passage takes between 11 and 16 hours at a speed of around 8 knots (15 km/h; 9 mph) . The low speed helps prevent erosion of the banks by ships՚ wakes.
  • Before the canal՚s opening in 1869, goods were sometimes offloaded from ships and carried overland between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea.
  • Cape Agulhas: The main alternative is around Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa, commonly referred to as the Cape of Good Hope route. This was the only sea route before the canal was constructed, and when the canal was closed. It is still the only route for ships that are too large for the canal. In the early 21st century, the Suez Canal has suffered from diminished traffic due to piracy in Somalia, with many shipping companies choosing to take the long route instead. Between 2008 and 2010, it is estimated that the canal lost 10 % of traffic due to the threat of piracy, and another 10 % due to the financial crisis. An oil tanker going from Saudi Arabia to the United States has 5,000 km farther to go when taking the route south of Africa rather than the canal.
  • Northern Sea Route: In recent years, the shrinking Arctic sea ice has made the Northern Sea Route feasible for commercial cargo ships between Europe and East Asia during a six-to-eight-week window in the summer months, shortening the voyage by thousands of miles compared to that through the Suez Canal. According to polar climate researchers, as the extent of the Arctic summer ice pack recedes the route will become passable without the help of icebreakers for a greater period each summer.
  • The Bremen-based Beluga Group claimed in 2009 to be the first Western company to attempt using the Northern Sea Route without assistance from icebreakers, cutting 7,400 kilometres (4,000 nmi) off the journey between Ulsan, Korea and Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
  • Cape Horn: Sailing ships, such as the windjammers in the heyday of the Great Grain Race between Australia and Europe during the 1930s, often preferred the Cape Horn route when going to Europe, due to prevalent wind directions, even though it is slightly longer from Sydney to Europe this way than past Cape Agulhas.
  • Negev desert railway: In February 2012, Israel announced its intention to construct a railway between the Mediterranean and Eilat through the Negev desert to compete with the canal. By 2019, the project had been indefinitely frozen.
  • The opening of the canal created the first salt-water passage between the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. Although the Red Sea is about 1.2 m (4 ft) higher than the eastern Mediterranean, the current between the Mediterranean and the middle of the canal at the Bitter Lakes flows north in winter and south in summer. The current south of the Bitter Lakes is tidal, varying with the tide at Suez. The Bitter Lakes, which were hypersaline natural lakes, blocked the migration of Red Sea species into the Mediterranean for many decades, but as the salinity of the lakes gradually equalised with that of the Red Sea the barrier to migration was removed, and plants and animals from the Red Sea have begun to colonise the eastern Mediterranean.
  • The Red Sea is generally saltier and more nutrient-poor than the Atlantic, so the Red Sea species have advantages over Atlantic species in the less salty and nutrient-rich eastern Mediterranean. Accordingly, most Red Sea species invade the Mediterranean biota, and only few do the opposite. This migratory phenomenon is called Lessepsian migration (after Ferdinand de Lesseps) or “Erythrean invasion” . Also impacting the eastern Mediterranean, starting in 1968, was the operation of Aswan High Dam across the Nile. While providing for increased human development, the project reduced the inflow of freshwater and ended all-natural nutrient-rich silt entering the eastern Mediterranean at the Nile Delta. This provided less natural dilution of Mediterranean salinity and ended the higher levels of natural turbidity, additionally making conditions more like those in the Red Sea.
  • Invasive species originating from the Red Sea and introduced into the Mediterranean by the canal have become a major component of the Mediterranean ecosystem and have serious impacts on the ecology, endangering many local and endemic species. About 300 species from the Red Sea have been identified in the Mediterranean, and there are probably others yet unidentified. The Egyptian government՚s intent to enlarge the canal raised concerns from marine biologists, who feared that it would worsen the invasion of Red Sea species.
  • Construction of the canal was preceded by cutting a small fresh-water canal called Sweet Water Canal from the Nile delta along Wadi Tumilat to the future canal, with a southern branch to Suez and a northern branch to Port Said. Completed in 1863, these brought fresh water to a previously arid area, initially for canal construction, and subsequently facilitating growth of agriculture and settlements along the canal

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