Focus: Polar Studies - Research

Current polar research in the Geology department focuses on Antarctic Mesozoic vertebrate paleontology of Antarctica. During December 2010 and January 2011, Department Chair Peter Makovicky and Resident Graduate Student Nate Smith of the were part of an NSF funded expedition to Antarctica to excavate fossils from exposures of the Early Jurassic Hanson Formation exposed in the Central Transantarctic Mountains. One of the main goals of the expedition was to complete excavation of a dinosaur quarry first discovered in 1990. At 84°S in latitude and 12500 feet in elevation, this site is not only the southernmost dinosaur quarry on the planet, but also the highest in elevation anywhere. Please visit www.fieldmuseum.org/expeditions to see dispatches and video from the most recent expedition.

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This quarry, which was partially excavated in the austral summers of 1990/1991 and 2003, contained the skeletons of two large Early Jurassic dinosaurs. One is the 25 foot long carnivore Cryolophosaurus , characterized by a bony crest on top of its head. The other animal, known as Galcialisaurus, is a large, herbivorous basal sauropodomorph. Additional discoveries from earlier field seasons include elements form a ramphorhynchoid pterosaur and a large tritylodont synapsid. In addition to collecting all remaining skeletal material from the Cryolophosaurus-Glacialisaurus quarry, the 2010/11 expedition also collected a skeleton of a small basal ornithischian. All of the dinosaur fossils are reposited in the Field Museum, and represent the most complete dinosaur material collected from Antarctica to date. Current research goals include the preparation and study of the new material recovered from Mt. Kirkpatrick and elsewhere in Antarctica, and placing all these fossils in a refined stratigraphic, temporal, and evolutionary framework. Study of high paleolatitude faunas will also contribute to the understanding of biogeography, past climates, and faunal adaptation in polar regions in the geological past.

Other departmental research on Antarctic fossils includes the description of a new mammal-like reptile from the Triassic of Antarctica by Geology curator Kenneth Angielczyk and colleagues, and description of several Antarctic fossil fishes by Geology curator and Vice-President of Collections and Research Lance Grande. In addition to vertebrate fossils, the Geology collections encompass a number of Antarctic meteorites collected by Geology Adjunct Curator Paul Sipiera on an expedition funded by the Tawani Foundation.