"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known" Carl Sagan
sábado, 5 de noviembre de 2011
Palaeontology - New dinosaur species discovered in far north Alaska
Paleontologists from the Museum of Nature & Science will announce their discovery of a new species of the ceratopsid dinosaur Pachyrhinosaurus at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology 71st Annual Meeting to be held Nov. 2 – 5, 2011 in Las Vegas. The new species will be formally named the Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum, in recognition of the Perot family (Margot and H. Ross Perot and their children), who have demonstrated a long history of supporting science and science education for the public and for their support of the Museum of Nature & Science, located in Dallas, Texas.
The new species will be formally named the Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum [Credit: Art Daily]
In conjunction with the announcement, a draft of the paper that describes the find was posted recently at the website of Acta Palaeontologica Polonica, an international quarterly journal that features papers of general interest from all areas of paleontology. Jointly submitted by Anthony R. Fiorillo, Ph.D., the Museum’s chief curator and director of research, and Ronald S. Tykoski, Ph.D., chief fossil preparator at the Museum, the paper is entitled: A new species of the centrosaurine ceratopsid Pachyrhinosaurus from the North Slope (Prince Creek Formation: Maastrichtian) of Alaska. The new dinosaur was discovered on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and the research was funded by the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs. The final paper will be published by the end of this year.
An excerpt from the report: The Cretaceous rocks of the Prince Creek Formation contain the richest record of polar dinosaurs found anywhere in the world. Here we describe a new species of horned dinosaur, Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum that exhibits an apomorphic character in the frill, as well as a unique combination of other characters. Phylogenetic analysis of 16 taxa of ceratopsians failed to resolve relationships between P. perotorum and other Pachyrhinosaurus species (P.canadensis and P. lakustai). P. perotorum shares characters with each of the previously known species that are not present in the other, including very large nasal and supraorbital bosses that are nearly in contact and separated only by a narrow groove as in P. canadensis, and a rostral comb formed by the nasals and premaxillae as in P. lakustai. P. perotorum is the youngest centrosaurine known (70-69 Ma), and the locality that produced the taxon, the Kikak-Tegoseak Quarry, is close to the highest latitude for recovery of ceratopsid remains.
“Discovering hundreds of bones from all these pachyrhinosaurs in one spot was unbelievably exciting, and we really thought the expedition was an incredible success. To later realize that we had unearthed a whole new species was one of the best days of my career,” said Dr. Fiorillo.
Dr. Fiorillo discovered the Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum during a return excavation in 2006 in far north Alaska, many miles north of the Arctic Circle. Incidentally, because of Dr. Fiorillo’s stature as an internationally renowned authority on polar dinosaurs, a film crew from PBS’ NOVA series was documenting his team’s work at the site.
The film crew fortuitously captured the unearthing of the skull and hundreds of surrounding fossils that came from at least ten Pachyrhinosaurus individuals. Those exciting moments were featured in an hour-long NOVA program entitled Arctic Dinosaurs, which debuted in 2008 on PBS (view the segment at http://video.pbs.org/video/1022686073/).
The NOVA segment followed the perils of working in Alaska – from operating a base camp in frigid temperatures, to the daily crossing of the precariously frigid river and the climbing of a steep bluff to get the site, to other researchers’ use of dynamite to access the hidden layers of the Earth. According to PBS, the segment also explored “how dinosaurs – long believed to be cold-blooded animals -- endured the bleak polar environment and navigate in near-total darkness during the long winter months.”
Once the dig was completed, Fiorillo and his team meticulously packaged the precious cargo in plaster-burlap jackets (although getting plaster to harden in sub-zero temperatures proved challenging), then painstakingly airlifted them by helicopter – encased only in heavy-duty netting attached to a clevis. They were then taken to a nearby airstrip, where they were flown to Fairbanks. Placed in wooden crates and marked “Dallas or bust,” the carefully padded treasures traveled to Dallas by truck.
Upon their arrival in the paleontology lab at the Museum of Nature & Science, the jackets were handed over to Dr. Tykoski, who spent the next several years meticulously whittling away the 70 million-year-old sediment that entombed the dinosaur bones.
“It’s as if someone took 15 Pachyrhinosaurs, dumped them into a blender for 30 seconds, poured all the mess out into a ball of concrete, then let it solidify for 70 million years,” said Dr. Tykoski describing his experience.
In early 2011, Dr. Tykoski and Dr. Fiorillo were stunned and excited when newly cleaned and reassembled pieces clearly showed they had found a new species of the Pachyrhinosaurus.
Dr. Fiorillo gives credit to field crewmembers that collected data for this project, including David Norton, Paul McCarthy, Peter Flaig, Kent Newman, Thomas Adams, Christopher Strganac, and Jason Petula.
A reconstruction of the Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum will be installed in the Life: Then and Now Hall, a 14,000-square-foot hall that will be part of the new Perot Museum of Nature & Science, which is currently under construction and slated to open in Dallas’ Victory Park in early 2013. The Life: Then and Now hall will showcase the Museum’s paleontological research, mounted animals, and highly regarded ornithological book collection, The Mudge Collection.
Illustrating their strong support of science, in May 2008 the Perot children made a $50 million gift to the museum campaign in honor of their parents, Margot and Ross Perot. The Victory Park facility has been named in their honor. The Perot children are Katherine Reeves, Carolyn Rathjen, Suzanne McGee, Nancy Perot Mulford and Ross Perot, Jr.
“Science has been a cornerstone in the lives and careers of the Perot family. They have also been longtime supporters of science education, especially in the area of making science exciting and relevant to young people. We’re truly thrilled to name this discovery in their honor,” said Dr. Fiorillo. “And we can’t wait for the world and everyone who loves dinosaurs to this see this life-sized reconstruction of the Pachyrhinosaurus perotorum when it debuts at the new Perot Museum.”