The Panama Canal was built in the early 20th century to improve worldwide shipping by shortening the route from the Atlantic to the Pacific by 7,800 miles. This Landsat 5 image, acquired on March 27, 2000 and processed by the U. S. Geological Survey, shows the Panama Canal connecting the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean (to the north) and the Gulf of Panama and the Pacific Ocean (to the south). Gatun Lake is in the center of the Canal. Northern Panama has a moist tropical climate and the vegetation is green all year. In the south, there is a distinct dry season, usually in March. In the southern region permanent pastures and agricultural fields are found (appear brown). This Landsat image is unusual as cloud cover in the region normally makes it difficult to get a clear view of the full canal length. A $25 billion canal expansion project was started in 2007. New locks and a new channel linking the locks, as well as deepening the waterway connecting the Gulf of Panama with the Caribbean Sea are part of the expansion, scheduled for completion in 2014, the centennial of the completion of the original canal.
Landsat satellite data are being used to complement aerial photography and other satellite data, as well as ground measurements to monitor land cover changes in the region and the development of the expansion project.