VIDEO: Hunting for Antarctic dinosaurs
John Pickrell is the editor of Australian Geographic. He is a science writer, author, nature lover and self-confessed geek. Blog posts range over Southern Hemisphere palaeontology, dinosaurs, megafauna, archaeology, palaeoanthropology and a smattering of other topics.
ANTARCTIC DINOSAURS ARE few and far between, but whenever they have been discovered, during brief windows of opportunity in the Antarctic summer, they have made for sensational finds.
The best know is carnivore Cryolophosaurus (pictured below) found at 1991 at Mt Kirkpatrick in the Transarctic Mountains. In more recent years James Ross Island – which has exposed areas of rock not covered in a thick layer of ice – has been explored for fossils resulting in the discovery of the armoured dinosaur Antarctopelta.
A reconstruction of Antarctic dinosaur Cryolophosaurus at the Royal Ontario Museum in Canada. (IMAGE CREDIT: D. Gordon E. Robertson/Wikimedia)
And this island is where a team of 12 scientists – including palaeontologists sedimentologists and graduate students – are heading in a few days’ time for a five-week expedition. Funded in part by the US National Science Foundation, the team includes experts from the US, Australia, South Africa and the UK.
“We’re going down there to look for dinosaurs, but also other animals in Antarctica that may have existed towards the end of the Age of Dinosaurs,” says Australian team-member Dr Steve Salisbury from the University of Queensland.
“Australia was connected to Antarctica right through the Age of Dinosaurs and beyond, up until about 40 million years ago… Antarctica holds the key to a lot of biogeographic problems that we’re trying unravel with regard to how dinosaurs and various other creatures ended up around the globe.”
One of the biggest challenges is simply getting to the right sites and for this they will have two helicopters.
“There’s a huge amount of logistics but I think that’s half the fun of operating somewhere like Antarctica… At first there will be a lot of walking around, kicking rocks, picking things up, looking for places to target and just systematically checking to see if anything new has appeared.”
With luck, though, they may find parts of fossil skeletons exposed along rideglines.
John Pickrell is the author of Flying Dinosaurs: How fearsome reptiles became birds, published by NewSouth Books. Follow him on Twitter @john_pickrell.