About Cristina Robins

The mission of the Panama Canal Project - Partnerships in International Research and Education [PCP PIRE] is to advance knowledge of the extinct faunas and floras of the ancient Neotropics based on the new fossil discoveries along the Canal. Consistent with NSF's PIRE program objectives, university students (undergraduate and graduate), postdocs, and faculty are engaging in PCP paleontological, geological, and biological research and Broader Impacts outreach. The ultimate outcome of the PCP PIRE will be to promote discovery and advance knowledge while training the next generation of scientists better able to engage in international experiences.

Mike Kedenburg and Gephen Sadove on the thermochronology of the Azuero Peninsula

Former PCP PIRE geology intern Gephen Sadove and current MS student Mike Kedenburg presented their research on the thermochronology of the Azuero Peninsula of Panama. Gephen and Mike have both written about their research before – Mike wrote about his research here, and Gephen explained about how she worked to process samples for research Part One; Part Two).

Gephen Sadove and Mike Kedenburg at their poster at GSA 2015.

Gephen Sadove and Mike Kedenburg at their poster at GSA 2015.

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GSA 2015

PCP PIRE has a large contingent here at GSA in Baltimore, MD this year. We hit the ground running with numerous poster presentations and oral presentations.

Former PCP PIRE intern Michael Ziegler presents research from the Azuero Peninsula of Panama that he did in concert with Amanda Waite.

PhD student Victor Perez holds a 3D printed megalodon tooth in front of his research poster.

Post doc Adiël Klompmaker spoke about Octopod predation on mollusks.

Cristina Robins, Roger Portell, and Javier Luque with their poster on fossil crabs-teasing out characteristics of sexual dimorphism and ontogeny.

Gephen Sadove and Mike Kedenburg presented their research on the geochron of the Azuero Peninsula (see previous post). Great first day at GSA!

Gatún and Empire with the Invertebrate Crew

This trip to Panama has been a little different than normal – we have a group predominantly composed of invertebrate paleontologists and paleobotanists, but have few vertebrate paleontologists. Where do you go in Panama if you want to find invertebrate fossils? Well, you can’t go wrong with the Gatún Formation, which has enchanted malacologists (mollusc-workers) for over a century.

Panoramic photo of the San Judas locality, near the town of Sabanitas in Panama.

Panoramic photo of the San Judas locality, near the town of Sabanitas in Panama. Photo by C. Robins.

We headed to Gatún on Thursday. It was an incredibly muddy day, with thunder often rumbling in the background, but we were lucky to have a wonderful collecting day. We ended up with over 1,000 invertebrate fossils; mostly molluscs, but with a few decapods, too.

Post doc Adiël Klompmaker keeps his paleo-paper easily accessible for fossil-wrapping. Photo by C. Robins.

Post doc Adiël Klompmaker keeps his paleo-paper easily accessible for fossil-wrapping. Photo by C. Robins.

Turritellid gastropods dominate some areas of the Gatún.

Turritellid gastropods dominate some areas of the Gatún.

We tried out multiple localities within the Sabanitas area, but found many had become overgrown and inaccessible in the last few years. This is a constant issue in Panama, where the erosion rate is high and the plants are constantly reclaiming the open space.

We have Prof. Jon Hendricks with us on this trip. He is a specialist in cone shells, and has been working on their phylogeny. He uses UV light to see their color patterns, which have long-since vanished from our visible color palette. We managed to collect around 500 cone snails for him, which was about half of the day’s total haul! (That’s not a true representative of Gatún diversity.)

Dr. Jon Hendricks sorting his fossil cones after a long day in the field.

Dr. Jon Hendricks sorting his fossil cones after a long day in the field.

After a productive day in Gatún, today we stayed in the canal zone. We were able to access the Empire Locality, a locality full of decapods that had previously been within the construction zone, and thus inaccessible to collecting.

Collecting in the Panama Canal - the crabs are too good to pay attention to the scenery!

Collecting in the Panama Canal – the crabs are too good to pay attention to the scenery!

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Roger Portell and Adiël Klompmaker hunt for decapods alongside the Panama Canal.

An anteater even tried to help us find fossils. He quickly headed back into the vegetation. Photo by Adiël Klompmaker.

An anteater even tried to help us find fossils. He quickly headed back into the vegetation. Photo by Adiël Klompmaker.

Friday proved to be an incredibly hot day, and we almost welcomed the torrential downpour that arrived around 1PM. The excessive lightning, however, forced us in for an early end. Tomorrow (Saturday) is our final field day, which we will spend as a divided group – part of the group will hunt for crabs, and the museum interns will finally get a chance to test their vertebrate paleontology skills at a few canal sites!

Spring Break in Panama

Group photo

Photo of the Spring Break Panama Canal participants at the Canopy Crane.

This week 15 additional people descended on the Panama Canal – the University of Florida Spring Break crew has arrived. For the majority of participants, this is their first experience in Panama.  We arrived Saturday afternoon and took Sunday as a tourist day to see the sights – the canopy crane and Punta Culebra were both great activities.

The first group is hooked up to the crane, which lifts them into the tree canopy.

The first group is hooked up to the crane, which lifts them into the tree canopy.

The view from the crane.

The view from the crane.

This iguana was sunbathing in the treetops.

This iguana was sunbathing in the treetops.

Punta Culebra

Vista at Punta Culebra.

Monday morning brought us to the Panama Canal.  We depart our hotel at 7AM, get to the canal around 8:30, and work until 3:30.  Quite a few fossils have been found – lots of new vertebrate, invertebrate, and paleobotanical samples are filling the lab at STRI!

AndreaVictorRachel Emperador

Andrea De Renzis, Victor Perez, and Rachel Narducci search the Empirador Formation for sharks teeth and invertebrate marine fossils.

Dawn Mitchell searches for vertebrate fossils in the Las Cascadas Formation.

Dawn Mitchell searches for vertebrate fossils in the Las Cascadas Formation.

Museum Intern Will Tifft takes a swing at a difficult layer of Las Palmas along the Panama Canal.

Museum Intern Will Tifft takes a swing at a difficult layer of Las Palmas along the Panama Canal.

NSF Post-doc Amanda Waite at AGU

Currently Amanda Waite (featured in the September eNewsletter) as well as several other PCP PIRE affiliates are at the American Geophysical Union Annual Meeting in San Francisco.  Amanda is live-tweeting the event, so be sure to follow here on Twitter: @amandajwaite

Sean Moran in Santa Cruz, CA

Sean Moran recently traveled to Santa Cruz, CA to work with high school teachers developing lesson plans incorporating paleontology.  Read his post on GABI-RET’s blog!

Sean Moran shows off a geological sample taken at Capitola Beach. Photo by Rob Hoffman.

The 3-5 Ma (Pliocene) Purisima Formation, a marine sedimentary unit that is fossiliferous and interpreted to preserve marine shelf deposits, crops out at Capitola Beach as well as several other locations around Santa Cruz. The fact that it is close to many local schools and provides material for several type of geology lessons makes in an appealing place for class field trips. The hope is that these trips with teachers will catalyze the creation of lesson plans centered on Capitola Beach [read more on GABI-RET].