The ISTHMUS OF PANAMA (Spanish : Istmo de Panamá), also historically
known as the ISTHMUS OF DARIEN (Spanish : Istmo de Darién), is the
narrow strip of land that lies between the
Caribbean Sea and the
Pacific Ocean , linking North and
South America . It contains the
Panama and the
Panama Canal . Like many isthmuses , it is a
location of great strategic value.
The isthmus was formed around 2.8 million years ago. This major
geological event separated the
Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and caused
the creation of the
Gulf Stream . This was first suggested in 1910 by
North American paleontologist
Henry Fairfield Osborn . He based the
proposal on the fossil record of mammals in Central America. This
conclusion provided a foundation for
Alfred Wegener when he proposed
the theory of continental drift in 1912.
* 1 History
* 2 Geology
* 3 Biosphere
* 4 See also
* 5 References
* 6 Sources
Main article: History of
Panama Núñez de Balboa's travel
route to the South Sea, 1513 An 1850 oil painting by Charles
Christian Nahl , titled, The
Panama on the height of the
Vasco Núñez de Balboa heard of the South Sea from natives while
sailing along the Caribbean coast. On 25 September 1513 he saw the
Pacific. In 1519 the town of Panamá was founded near a small
indigenous settlement on the Pacific coast. After the discovery of
Peru , it developed into an important port of trade and became an
administrative centre. In 1671 the Welsh pirate
Henry Morgan crossed
Isthmus of Panamá from the Caribbean side and destroyed the city.
The town was relocated some kilometers to the west at a small
peninsula. The ruins of the old town,
Panamá Viejo , are preserved
and were declared a
UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Silver and gold from the viceroyalty of
Peru were transported
overland across the isthmus by
Spanish Silver Train to Porto Bello ,
where Spanish treasure fleets shipped them to
Lionel Wafer spent four years between 1680 and 1684 among the Cuna
Scotland tried to establish a settlement in 1698 through the Darien
California Gold Rush
California Gold Rush , starting in 1849, brought a large increase
in the transportation of people from the
Atlantic to the Pacific.
Steamships brought gold seekers from eastern US ports who trekked
across the isthmus by foot, horse, and later rail. On the Pacific
side, they boarded
Pacific Mail Steamship Company vessels headed for
San Francisco .
Ferdinand de Lesseps
Ferdinand de Lesseps , the man behind the
Suez Canal , started a
Panama Canal Company in 1880 that went bankrupt in 1889 in a scandal .
In 1902–4, the United States forced
Colombia to grant independence
to the department of the isthmus, bought the remaining assets of the
Panama Canal Company, and finished the canal in 1914.
A significant body of water (referred to as the Central American
Seaway ) once separated the continents of North and South America,
allowing the waters of the Pacific and
Atlantic Oceans to mix freely.
Beneath the surface, two plates of the Earth\'s crust were slowly
colliding, forcing the
Cocos Plate to slide under the Caribbean Plate
. The pressure and heat caused by this collision led to the formation
of underwater volcanoes , some of which grew large enough to form
islands as early as 15 million years ago. Meanwhile, movement of the
two tectonic plates was also pushing up the sea floor, eventually
forcing some areas above sea level.
Over time, massive amounts of sediment (sand, soil, and mud) from
South America filled the gaps between the newly forming
islands. Over millions of years, the sediment deposits added to the
islands until the gaps were completely filled. By no later than 4.5
million years ago, an isthmus had formed between North and South
America. However, in April 2015, an article in Science Magazine stated
that zircon crystals in middle
Miocene bedrock from northern Colombia
indicated that by 10 million years ago, it is likely that instead of
islands, a full isthmus between the North and South American
continents had already likely formed where the Central American Seaway
had been previously.
Evidence also suggests that the creation of this land mass and the
subsequent warm, wet weather over northern Europe resulted in the
formation of a large
Arctic ice cap and contributed to the current ice
age . That warm currents can lead to glacier formation may seem
counterintuitive, but heated air flowing over the warm
Gulf Stream can
hold more moisture. The result is increased precipitation that
contributes to snow pack.
The formation of the
Panama also played a major role in
biodiversity on the planet. The bridge made it easier for animals and
plants to migrate between the two continents. This event is known in
paleontology as the
Great American Interchange . For instance, in
North America today, the opossum , armadillo , and porcupine all trace
back to ancestors that came across the land bridge from South America.
Likewise, bears, cats, dogs, horses, llamas, and raccoons all made the
trek south across the isthmus.
As the connecting bridge between two vast land masses, the Panamanian
biosphere is filled with overlapping fauna and flora from both North
and South America. There are, for example, over 978 species of birds
in the isthmus area. The tropical climate also encourages a myriad of
large and brightly colored species, insects, amphibians, birds, fish,
and reptiles. Divided along its length by a mountain range, the
isthmus's weather is generally wet on the
Atlantic (Caribbean) side
but has a clearer division into wet and dry seasons on the Pacific
* ^ Formation of the
Isthmus of Panama
* ^ http://www0.unsl.edu.ar/~bibliogeo/index_archivos/wegener.pdf
* ^ "North and
South America Came Together Much Earlier Than
Thought: Study". nbcnews.com. NBC News through Reuters. April 9, 2015.
Retrieved April 9, 2015.
* ^ The Birds of
Panama A Field Guide by George R. Angehr and
* A New Voyage and Description of the
Isthmus of America (1695), by
Lionel Wafer . Excerpt from the 1729 Knapton edition
* Mellander, Gustavo A.(1971) The United States in Panamanian
Politics: The Intriguing Formative Years. Daville, Ill.:Interstate
Publishers. OCLC 138568.
* Mellander, Gustavo A.; Nelly Maldonado Mellander (1999). Charles
Edward Magoon: The
Panama Years. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial
Plaza Mayor. ISBN 1-56328-155-4 . OCLC 42970390.
* Seager, R. (2006) 'The Source of Europe’s Mild Climate.',
American Scientist, 94(4), pp. 334.
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Coordinates : 8°40′N 80°0′W / 8.667°N 80.000°W