After several days’ wait, our precious and much-anticipated delivery of calcium carbonate cargo arrived at the lab upon clearing customs in the Panama City airport. Months of work went into preparing the agreements for these samples to pass into the country, and they were completed just in the nick of time. Now we were off and running with phase two. We also welcomed two new lab members to the team: Yamilla Samara and Henbelk Hernandez.
First, we had to unpack all of the samples from the crates and remove the plastic bags that they had previously been packaged in, allowing them to dry completely. In particular, the sediments collected underwater were still a bit soggy. Left outside or in the lab, these large, damp bulk bags could take a couple of months to dry completely without extra help. To expedite the drying process, some were moved to the ‘drying bubble’ that we had constructed in advance before leaving for the field. The drying oven that we had previously used was not nearly big enough for all of these new samples, so we decided to make our own! The ‘drying bubble’ consists of two metal bookcases, two dehumidifiers, and a fan completely enclosed by plastic, creating a hot, dry, confined space to dry samples simultaneously in large batches. It’s essentially a walk-in closet for sediment, complete with a Velcro sealed door flap. And trust me, it gets hot working in there. Now, this first batch of wet bulk bags would be dry in a week.
After each bulk bag of sediment is completely dry, it is weighed and stored in preparation for the next step: sieving. Fortunately, most of our fossil sediments were already dry, so no time was lost.