Day 2, Part 2 – Climate Change and the Canal

Later on Monday afternoon after we ate lunch, we went upstairs in the CATHALAC building to speak with Joel Perez about how climate change has affected Panama. We discussed the differences between hazards (natural disasters, physical conditions) and vulnerability (cultural, political, economic dispositions of a community). Joel explained that the main hazard that Panama has faced recently has been an extended dry season, causing drought conditions that leave the impoverished rural communities particularly vulnerable. The most important question Joel left us with was this: What kinds of information or data could be useful to these communities. In later meetings with cooperative and JAAR members of Santa Fe, we learned that our much of our research could be used to help the Santa Fe community, as we shall see in further blog posts.


After our early afternoon sessions were all over, we drove out to the Mira Flores lock of the Panama Canal. The canal’s museum was located near the lock, so we were able to learn more about the history of the canal. We saw some very useful demonstrations of how the locks work as they raise and lower the water level so that ships can pass from the Caribbean to the Pacific and vice-versa (I’ll admit, I really didn’t understand myself until I saw them in person).

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We learned that each boat requires about 52 million gallons of fresh water to cross the canal. Many plants and purification centers are located near the locks, so they are able to sell both water and electricity. What I found most interesting was that the canal was forced to close in 1997 due to an extreme drought caused by the El Niño. The effects of El Niño in Panama baffle me, because the event seems to have the opposite effect on most of the country compared to the rest of Latin America. I’ll have to research this more closely when I return stateside!


Centro del Agua del Trópico Húmedo para America Latina y el Caribe

Today was a very busy day for our team. Throughout the morning we had some really great orientation sessions at CATHALAC’s headquarters, down the road from our Holiday Inn.


The weather has been quite nice so far actually: scattered showers, but not quite the torrential downpour that I was expecting.

We met Zvia Danon, CATHALAC’s manager of their education division and one of the major coordinators of this program. For the first few sessions, our team was given a brief introduction to CATHALAC and its many roles in Panama and the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean. We also discussed some of our expectations for the program and any concerns we might have.

In a later session, we learned more of the specifics of what our research will actually involve and the impacts we will have on the local communities near Santa Fe. The opportunity that I am most excited about is how our data can potentially be used to aid JAARs, or Administrative Boards of Local Aqueducts. JAARs manage water resources and usage in these communities, making sure that everyone in the community has enough water and pays their fees. JAARs have become increasingly important as the country tries to recover from an extended dry season that has caused droughts in many areas.

Unfortunately, less that 10% of JAARs in Panama have been officially legalized. With recent Panamanian elections, regulations for the legalization of JAARs have become more strict. Many of these organizations will need assistance if they are to be able to serve their communities fully, and it seems possible that our data from hydrology research within the Santa Maria watershed may prove useful to this end.

This concludes my summary of Day 2 of our journey up until about 10:30 this morning! Unfortunately, I have to pack my things and get some rest, because we hit the road early tomorrow morning to travel to Santa Fe, so I will finish documenting the rest of our adventures from today on the bus ride tomorrow. Next post(s?): Climate Change in Latin America, the Panama Canal, and food!

Also coming soon: the Hector Gallego Foundation, Arrival at Santa Fe, and more travel adventures!

An Early Start

I said in my previous post that we wouldn’t be having any issues with jet lag. I lied!

A couple of us woke up an extra hour early because the alarm on our phones was set for Eastern time. I guess that’s what happens when you shut your phone off in Atlanta and it doesn’t get a chance to update!

At any rate, we got a good breakfast and are ready for a great day!


Our team arrived safely in Panama City with minimal customs-headache at about 8:45pm Central Time. Fortunately the time zone here is the same as in Huntsville, so jet lag is not a concern.

Cristina and Conrado of CATHALAC met us outside of customs and drove us about 30 minutes to the City of Knowledge where our Holiday Inn is located. We caught a glimpse of the canal and the city itself is amazing. Our friends from CATHALAC explained how quickly the city has become covered with skyscrapers over the past fifteen years mostly due to foreign investment. The Holiday Inn is a ten minute walk from CATHALAC’s headquarters, so we’ll set out around 8 tomorrow morning to start our lessons and tour the city and the canal.

Our team is fairly tired after a long day of travelling, but overall it has been a very good day. We’re all excited to get to work bright and early tomorrow.

A New Journey




Today is the big day: departure. Our team met up at the airport at 8:45 this morning and had no difficulties checking in. Dr. Cook saw us to the gate and now we’re waiting for our flight to Atlanta. Eric passed out the maps we’ve been working on for the past two weeks and they all look fantastic on paper!

Next post will be from Latin America!


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Welcome to Panama

Hello and Welcome! I created this blog to document the 2014 Panama Study Abroad program at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. These posts will be moved over to a UAH domain at a later date.

Over the next four weeks, I’ll be updating this blog with pictures, videos, and posts about our team’s experiences in the Republic of Panama. I plan on documenting our travel adventures, some of our research methods, and our results on this blog, so be sure to check in often!