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.