Buried beneath the perpetual ice of Antarctica are the remnants of a once lush and temperate environment. Millions of years ago, the continent’s life resembled that of fellow southern continents, such as Australia. And traversing about this now-barren frozen landscape were dinosaurs.
An international team of researchers, with support from the National Science Foundation, is headed to Antarctica for a month-long expedition, with hopes of unearthing the secrets of the prehistoric lifeforms that once called the continent home.
The research team—which is being led by paleontologists from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Univ. of Texas at Austin, Ohio Univ., and the American Museum of Natural History—is headed to James Ross Island and other islands near the Antarctic Peninsula.
According to the Australian Government, the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula is well-known for its fossil specimens, including ankylosaurs, mosasaurs, and plesiosaurs. The nearby Seymour Island also holds paleontological significance, as it boasts a plethora of fossil sites.
Looking at the period straddling the border between the Cretaceous and the Paleogene, the research team hopes to uncover more information regarding the transition between the Age of Dinosaurs and the Age of Mammals.
Already. Researchers believe Antarctica played an important role in avian evolution. Back in 2005, researchers reexamined fossils found in Antarctica in 1992, and were able to classify it as a new bird species Vegavis iaai, which lived during the Cretaceous period. According to the researchers, Vegavis is most closely related to modern ducks and geese.
“It’s impossible not to be excited to reach remote sites via helicopter and icebreaker to look for dinosaurs and other life forms from over 66 million years ago,” said Julia Clarke, a paleontologist with the Univ. of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences. “The Earth has undergone remarkable changes, but through all of them, life and climate and geological processes have been linked. A single new discovery from this time period in the high southern latitude can change what we know in transformative ways.”
Clarke led the research team that reexamined Vegavis in 2005.
The research team includes geologists, who will be examining the rocks with fossils to decipher what the climate in Antarctica was once like.
You can follow the team’s journey here.