Fairbanks, Alaska --Many different dinosaurs once roamed the earth at high latitudes, but how well they adapted to the conditions at these latitudes remains a mystery. One theory, discussed in the Feb. 8 issue of the journal "Science," suggests the possibility of warm-blooded dinosaurs. University of Alaska Museum Earth Sciences Curator and associate professor Roland Gangloff, along with fellow researchers Thomas and Patricia Rich in Melbourne, Australia, was invited to author the perspective paleontology article titled "Polar Dinosaurs."
A possible explanation for the success of these polar dinosaurs is that the climate at high latitudes may have been much milder than today due to differences in the inclination of Earth's axis. Although this is presently unsupported by generally accepted geophysical theory, researchers do know that the paleogeography of North America and Alaska was quite different compared to the present based on plate tectonic models. Polar dinosaurs still may have been exposed to more extreme conditions than experienced at lower latitudes and Gangloff has concluded that the study of polar dinosaurs provides potentially unique insights into their physiological adaptations.
"These dinosaurs were doing quite well in high latitudes in both hemispheres 110 - 65 million years ago," said Gangloff. "They were well adapted and the evidence is so overwhelming it cries out to be understood."
Most discoveries of high-latitude fossil beds have taken place in the last 20 years because fossil finds are remote and travel and recovery costs can be prohibitive. Alaska has the largest number of specimens and varieties of dinosaurs in the Arctic or Antarctic and Alaska's North Slope and the Alaska Peninsula hold the greatest potential for more dinosaur discoveries. One area in particular, along the lower stretches of the Colville River on Alaska's North Slope, holds great promise for future investigations especially when facilitated by permafrost tunneling.
"It is there that the greatest known potential exists for recovering the most extensive polar record, one that's not restricted to a single, brief period of time," said Gangloff. Gangloff is preparing for his 14th research trip to the Colville site in the summer of 2002. He will be leading several teams on the North Slope to excavate and salvage a fairly complete ichthyosaur, a marine reptile that resembles a whale, along with the most complete northern horned dinosaur, or pachyrhinosaur, ever found in Alaska. Ft. Wainwright's helicopter Company B, 4th Battalion, 123rd Aviation will assist in the removal of the artifacts.