Dallas Paleontologists Find a ‘Candy Store’ of Dinosaur Footprints in Alaska

The team also found skin imprints and fossilized bird footprints.

By Rhonda FanningAugust 30, 2016 11:05 am| ,

Back in 1961 a petroleum geologist discovered the first evidence of polar dinosaurs on Alaska’s North Slope. Ten years ago, in the same area, paleontologist Tony Fiorillo discovered a new species of horned dinosaur, Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum. He’s spent the last decade exploring northern Alaska for more affirmation of dinosaur life.

Last week, he and his team from the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas returned from the second phase of a new expedition 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle.

“Some oil geologists had done the original mapping in the region that we were looking in,” Fiorillo says. “My colleagues and I thought there might be a chance that we might find some dinosaurs out there.”

Last year’s trip was a purely exploratory mission, Fiorillo says. They found about six sites that had dinosaur and fossil bird footprints – a good indicator they might find even more evidence later.

“It was like walking into a candy store,” Fiorillo says. “We went back out there … we found over 50 additional sites this year in the same length of time.”

The team found a diverse array of footprints, skin impressions and fossilized bird skin impressions during this trip. “The quality and the quantity was just mind-blowing,” Fiorillo says.

The evidence suggests that dinosaurs lived in high latitudes – and they weren’t moved from somewhere else by shifting plate tectonics. Fiorillo says different data sets also point to a warmer climate 100 million years ago, when the dinosaurs would have been alive. The ice and snow that is there now would only have been on the highest mountaintops.

Fiorillo says the team would like to go back for more. They’re looking at the origins of the Bering Land Bridge between Alaska and Siberia.

“It’s essentially the formation of the ancient Arctic terrestrial ecosystem as we have come to know it,” Fiorillo says. “The fact that we found such a diversity in footprints tells us something about the way biology can adapt so quickly to an extreme environment.”

Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.