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After Nearly a Decade, North Slope Site Still Turns Out Details on Polar Dinosaurs

Anthony R. Fiorillo and Ron Tykoski
Fiorillo AR, Tykoski RS (2014) A Diminutive New Tyrannosaur from the Top of the World. PLoS ONE 9(3): e91287. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0091287

Fairbanks, AK - Most of the field work that will happen in Alaska this summer has wrapped up and scientists are now hard at work preparing samples for study and analyzing data.  Some of those field-collected samples include the remains of dinosaurs from the North Slope.

Somewhere between 100 and 70 million years ago, dinosaurs roamed a region of Alaska stretching from Denali to the North Slope. “In 2006, we worked on a quarry…" s ays Anthony Fiorillo.  He's the Curator of Earth Sciences at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas Texas.

Eight years ago, his team was excavating the remains of a horned dinosaur on the North Slope near the Colville River. “What we ended up doing there was removing literally tons of material," he says.  "We knew that there was a horned dinosaur there, but we didn’t know much more about it.  During the course of the excavation, we uncovered isolated meat eating dinosaur teeth as well as the occasional chewed dinosaur bone.  So, we started to ask the question: who’s eating this horned dinosaur?”

That question led to the discovery of Nanuqsaurus, or what Fiorillo describes as a 'diminutive T-Rex.' "I mean a tyrannosaurus Rex is about 40 feet long," he smiles. "So, diminutive, what does that mean? d this dinosaur, Nanuqsaurus was about 20 feet long," he says.  "So this is definitely not something that you’d have curled up in front of your fireplace, but it’s obviously not a full sized full sized Tyrannosaur that you’d think about.”

He says there is also evidence of duck billed dinosaurs. The climate during the late cretaceous was not as cold as it is today, but Fiorillo says the presence of dinosaurs in the Far North raises questions about whether dinosaurs spent the winter here or if they migrated to a warmer climate.

“We’re pretty solid in thinking that they lived here year round," says Fiorillo.

Fiorillo says there’s still more to learn beyond the species that lived here. “So, we really try to put together an ecosystem approach to try to understand what the polar dinosaur world was like.  Who was there and how did they do what they did.”

This summer his team collected hundreds of pounds of bones and associated skeletal material. “In general what we found were more duck billed dinosaur bones, juveniles and some that were close to adult sized," he says.  "We’re finding more predatory dinosaur material.  What this does is it broadens the collections enough son that we have a better understanding of the populations of these animals.”

Fiorillo says it will take all winter to prepare the material for study.  But he anticipates having new information about Alaska’s dinosaurs by next summer.