Thank you to the many people who have been following our expedition on this website and our Twitter account. We’ve been getting lots of questions about the trip and our work. During a recent Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, we received more than 400 questions that were fielded by the team. Over the next several blog posts, we will share our responses to many of the questions people want to know.
Q: Where was the Antarctica located during the period you are studying?
A: Antarctica, more or less, is still in the same location as it was during the Late Cretaceous. But at the time the Antarctic Peninsula was still connected to the southernmost tip of South America as well as Australia on the other end. The final break-up between Antarctica and South America was around 34 million years ago.
Q: Will you be digging under deep layers of ice?
A: We will not be digging through ice for our expedition. Our expedition is timed for the end of the Austral summer, when most rock along the northernmost tip of the peninsula is readily available. There will be glaciers where we will be working but they will not be covering all of the islands where we will be working. Unfortunately, the possibility of a snow storm can still limit the amount of exposed rock with fossils.
Q: How will your tools and equipment differ compared to projects in warmer climates?
A: The tools we will be bringing will be similar to what we normally bring on our expeditions. The exception would be the plaster which may have some difficulty setting in the colder environment. We will also be wearing more clothes and layers than normal.
Q: Will you be near penguin colonies?
A: Thankfully, our sites of interest are far from any penguin colonies, so we won’t be disturbing our little feathered friends.
Q: What is the biggest anticipated challenge facing the expedition?
A: The thing that concerns us most are the weather and climate conditions in our study area. If it’s super-windy or foggy, our helicopters can’t fly, and if there’s fast ice stuck to the islands we want to visit, our small boats (i.e., landing craft) can’t reach them. If it snows, the rocks are covered, and so we can’t find the fossils in them. Lots of different environmental factors could pose problems for us. Other potential hazards include injuries, exhaustion, frostbite, inability to find fossils in some places, and problems with helicopters.
Q: How do you find fossils?
A: In brief, there are basically two ways by which one can determine where to look for fossils. The first has to do with the fact that most of the Earth’s surface has been mapped from a geological standpoint. Geologic maps show what rocks are exposed at the surface. Fossils are found almost exclusively in sedimentary rocks (e.g., shale, mudstone, sandstone) as opposed to igneous and metamorphic rocks. So the first step would be to examine the map for those. Next, for those interested in dinosaurs, scour the map for sedimentary rocks that were deposited during the Mesozoic Era or Age of Dinosaurs ( we know that dinos evolved more-or-less 235 million years ago and died out (except for their descendants, birds) 66 million years ago). So search the map for sedimentary rocks that were deposited during that time. Lastly, dinos were almost exclusively land-dwelling animals, so look for Mesozoic sedimentary rocks that were deposited in bodies of water that were near land (i.e., rivers, ponds, lakes, ocean coastlines). If all three criteria are met, and you can get to the place, you might have a fighting chance of finding dino fossils there.
The second way is simpler — you just go where people have found fossils before.