Back to Alaska – The Adventure Continues

In the Field 2015

Hi, I am Dr. Anthony Fiorillo, the Vice President of Research and Collections and Chief Curator for the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, Texas. If you are new to the Perot Museum’s “In The Field” blogs, then welcome! Those of you who’ve followed our previous Alaskan dinosaur expeditions may know that in August we are heading back to Alaska for another brand-new field area. This time we are looking at Cretaceous-aged rocks that are about 95 million years old, which makes them about 25 million years older than the rock units around Alaska where we have worked previously. This older period puts us closer to the time when the land bridge between Asia and North America, commonly called the Bering Land Bridge, was put in place through the tectonic movements of geologic plates. Beringia is known to many for its Ice Age legacy when peopling of the New World and other animals such as mammoths began inhabiting the area.

Before I go on, I have to give credit! I’m very honored to be the first winner of the $100,000 Foundation Mamont – Explorers Club World Exploration Challenge Grant for my submission entitled “Ancient Beringia in a Greenhouse Polar World—At the Northern Edge of Dinosaurs and Their Environments.” As a member of the Explorers Club (although that wasn’t a requirement of the grant), this is an extraordinary recognition, and I am very grateful.

Back to the expedition! Given the geologic antiquity of Beringia, similar exchanges of fauna (or animals) between these two continents also occurred with dinosaurs. Many of the groups of dinosaurs found in western North America during the Cretaceous had their origins in Asia. So understanding the gateway, or land bridge connection between these two continents, provides us the means for understanding the dinosaur faunas of two major land masses! Now that is pretty big-picture science. We will be the first to explore this area for dinosaurs, and, with luck on our side, the outcome of our expedition could be very exciting. But this new expedition is arguably the most remote site yet, making our preparations extremely challenging.

Joining me on this expedition will be Eric Orphys, an incoming graduate student in the geology program at the University of Alaska; Carla Susi Tomsich, a finishing graduate student in the geology program at the University of Alaska; and Chinzorig Tsogtbaatar, a member of the Mongolian Academy of Sciences and also a graduate student at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan. Originally, Dr. Paul McCarthy of the University of Alaska was to be a member of our group, but, unfortunately, he accidentally broke his foot earlier in the summer while in the field. Thankfully, Susi has agreed to step in and participate. Susi and I have worked together several times in the past, ranging from the North Slope of Alaska to Denali National Park. Her combined field experiences will be an asset to the expedition.

If you want to skip the day-by-day, here is a summary video of the expedition.

This project generously supported by Foundation Mamont – Explorers Club World Exploration Challenge Grant.

Hi, I am Dr. Anthony Fiorillo, the Vice President of Research and Collections and Chief Curator for the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, Texas. If you are new to the Perot Museum’s “In The Field” blogs, then welcome! Those of you who’ve followed our previous Alaskan dinosaur expeditions may know that in […]

The Last of the Closeout

In the Field 2015

Susi and Eric headed straight back to Fairbanks, while Chinzorig and I flew to Anchorage on the 22nd. Despite the number of rainy days limiting our work, overall this was a very successful expedition. For the first time ever, we now have diverse records of fossil animals and fossil soils in this remote part of Alaska.

This winter promises to find us studying our data, and, when taken together, these discoveries will provide us important new information about one of the earliest ancient Arctic terrestrial ecosystems. And that is particularly interesting because this window of time is one of the warmest in geologic history.

Thanks to the support of the Explorers Club and the Mamont Foundation, I think we have hit the tip of an exciting paleontological ‘iceberg,’ so one of the obvious questions is how the next phase will be funded. To that end, I spent some of the time in Anchorage with people like Linda Stromquist of the National Park Service to brainstorm about future funding to keep the momentum for another field season. Hopefully, Perot Museum in the Field 2016 will be built upon the results of this expedition.

Susi and Eric headed straight back to Fairbanks, while Chinzorig and I flew to Anchorage on the 22nd. Despite the number of rainy days limiting our work, overall this was a very successful expedition. For the first time ever, we now have diverse records of fossil animals and fossil soils in this remote part of […]

Closing Out

In the Field 2015

Now that we are clean, we have to move on to the rest of our close out. Everything we brought with us now has to be packed up and sent to various destinations. Specimens, gear and any left-over food need to be boxed up and sent. The time we spent at the U.S. Post Office in Kotzebue stretched into hours.

Because some of the specimens are heading to the University of Alaska for laboratory analyses, I learned that in-state postal rates are different that out-of-state rates. The former rate is much cheaper than the latter.

With everything now on its way to where it should go, we relax during our last evening in Kotzebue.

 

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One last look at Kotzebue Sound before heading to Anchorage in the morning.

Now that we are clean, we have to move on to the rest of our close out. Everything we brought with us now has to be packed up and sent to various destinations. Specimens, gear and any left-over food need to be boxed up and sent. The time we spent at the U.S. Post Office […]

Time to Head towards Home

In the Field 2015

The rain eventually stopped last night shortly after midnight. But I awoke about 6 a.m. in the morning to the sound of a light rain hitting my tent fly. It didn’t last, and by 7 a.m. it was spotty rain.

I called Bering Air around 8 a.m. with our local weather report – almost no breeze and the base of the clouds about 1,500 feet above us. But to our south was a thin fog that I hoped would burn off.

I was told that Bering Air had grounded our aircraft because of weather conditions at their location and that I should check back in an hour.

The hour benefited the weather in both places. Ours improved, and when I called the operator told me the helicopter had just left.

The helicopter arrived early afternoon. With my earlier reports of changes in river level, on the way out he flew over our original landing strip and confirmed that half of the river bar was now under water. The Cessnas could not land there. The back up plan was to use an old oil field exploration landing strip. Originally a couple of thousand feet long, decay since the days of oil exploration in this area decades earlier had reduced the usable part of the landing strip. While a big plane couldn’t land there any more, the western end of the air strip was still usable to a Cessna-sized aircraft.

We began the process of extraction. Three flights later we, and all of our gear, arrived on the air strip. While we waited for our Cessnas to arrive, we watched a grizzly bear a few hundred yards away picking berries. A few caribou were way off in another direction on a ridgeline.

The Cessnas arrived late in the afternoon, and it took us about an hour and half to fly back to Kotzebue. Once we got back to town, showers and washing clothes seemed to be everyone’s top priorities.

 

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The yellow of a fall willow.

 

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A view to the south from our back up landing strip.

 

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The helicopter bringing the other three people to the landing strip.

 

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And now our gear has arrived.

 

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Our flights to town have arrived, the Cessnas land.

 

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One last view of the lower part of the Noatak River before getting to Kotzebue.

 

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My companions in the other Cessna flying home.

The rain eventually stopped last night shortly after midnight. But I awoke about 6 a.m. in the morning to the sound of a light rain hitting my tent fly. It didn’t last, and by 7 a.m. it was spotty rain. I called Bering Air around 8 a.m. with our local weather report – almost no […]

And the Rain Returns

In the Field 2015

The rain started again around 5 a.m . It is steady, and the visibility is very poor. So my original plan for the day was to hike out to some spot a few miles away and then work back to camp using a pack raft. In this weather that seems like a flat-out dumb idea. So we all remain in camp and hope for better weather later in the day. Chilly temperatures.

Noon. Still raining and cold.

3 p.m. No change.

The evening has come, and we did not end with a glorious discovery on our last expedition day. I checked the stick by the river and the water level has come up another two inches. So in the last few days, the river level is now at least seven inches higher, which I suspect is sufficient to put a good deal of our original landing strip under water.

The rain started again around 5 a.m . It is steady, and the visibility is very poor. So my original plan for the day was to hike out to some spot a few miles away and then work back to camp using a pack raft. In this weather that seems like a flat-out dumb idea. […]