Field Teams Prepare to Explore Northern Latitudes
High summer in the northern hemisphere, most teaching programmes may have come to an end but for many palaeontologists, this is their busiest time of year. The months of July and August represent the best times to explore some of the more remote and difficult to access vertebrate fossil sites. Take for example, Dr Anthony Fiorillo from the Perot Museum of Nature and Science (Dallas, Texas). He and his colleagues are busy organising field work in the Aniakchak National Monument (Alaska), area in a bid to learn more about polar dinosaurs. The summer months represent the only time that scientists have to work at such remote and inaccessible sites, as the weather for once, is on their side. Palaeontologists will be taking advantage of the near 24-hours of daylight in northern latitudes to further explore the unique prehistoric environments that for most of the year are simply inaccessible.
Dr Tony Fiorillo at Work in the Field
Picture Credit: Perot Museum of Nature and Science
Dinosaurs of Northern Latitudes
The Late Cretaceous exposures in Alaska provide a record of life at very high latitudes as the age of dinosaurs was drawing to a close. Just like the herds of migratory herbivorous dinosaurs, which would have fed around the clock, the scientists will be taking advantage of the very long days to get as much work done as possible. The field team hope to revisit a number of locations in the Aniakchak National Monument in a bid to collect more data on the hundreds of dinosaur tracksites that have been discovered. These tracks and individual dinosaur footprints provide a unique insight into the ancient palaeofauna, an opportunity to further explore the lives of polar dinosaurs. In 2014, Everything Dinosaur wrote an article summarising some of the work undertaken by Dr Fiorillo and his colleagues as they interpreted a substantial number of duck-billed dinosaur tracks. These trace fossils helped the researchers to better understand how these giant, herbivorous dinosaurs moved around in herds: Duck-Billed Dinosaurs Moved Around in Herds just like Elephants. Over the years, researchers from the Perot Museum of Nature and Science have made a very important contribution to research into dinosaur populations that lived (and seemed to thrive) at high northern latitudes.
Commenting on the significance of their work, Dr Fiorillo stated:
“At the start of every one of these expeditions, the adrenaline is pumping. We are so excited to get back out there. I fully expect that we will find dozens of footprints and we will learn a little bit more about the environment in which these dinosaurs lived.”
Nanuqsaurus hoglundi and Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum
Staff at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, along with their collaborators from other institutions have been instrumental in helping to improve our understanding of the polar dinosaurs and the palaeoenvironment. For example, a third species of Pachyrhinosaurus (P. perotorum) has been erected thanks to Alaskan fossil discoveries.
A Skeleton of the Horned Dinosaur Pachyrhinosaurus
With all that plant food and the long summer days, Alaska might have been a paradise, albeit a chilly one for plant-eating dinosaurs. However, they did have to contend with some particularly nasty predators, over-sized dromaeosaurids for example and perhaps, even more surprisingly a “polar” Tyrannosaur. In 2006, a research team led by Dr Anthony Fiorillo and his colleague Dr Ronald Tykoski, also from the Perot Museum of Nature and Science discovered the fossils of a carnivorous dinosaur that was later named Nanuqsaurus hoglundi.
To read more about this fossil discovery: An Update on “Polar Bear Lizard”
We wish all field teams every success and we hope that they have a safe, rewarding and very satisfactory field season.
To read more about the discovery of Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum an article first published in 2011: A New Species of Pachyrhinosaurus is Announced