Scientists from Chicago's Field Museum stand on top of Mount Kirkpatrick in Antarctica.

Field Museum

STANDARDS

CCSS: 6.RP.A.3.D, MP1, MP5, MP7

TEKS: 6.4H, 7.4E


Frozen Fossils

How scientists dig up ancient dinosaur bones in the world’s most remote location

More than 90 percent of Antarctica is covered in snow and ice. Even in the middle of summer, temperatures average -10° Fahrenheit! But 200 million years ago, Antarctica was a paradise. It had a warm climate, and the continent was covered with slow rivers and lush forests. Animals such as birds, amphibians, and dinosaurs roamed the land.

In 2017, scientists braved the cold to uncover the secrets of Antarctica’s past. But its current climate presented unique challenges. “You can’t look for fossils under the ice because it’s two miles thick in places,” says Peter Makovicky, a paleontologist at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois, who was on the team.

Antarctica is always cold. Even in the middle of summer, temperatures average -10° Fahrenheit! Almost all of the continent is covered in snow and ice. But 200 million years ago, Antarctica was a paradise. The climate was warm. Lush forests and rivers covered the continent. Animals such as birds, amphibians, and dinosaurs roamed the land.

A team of scientists from the Field Museum in Chicago wanted to learn more about Antarctica’s past. In 2017, they braved the cold to look for ancient fossils there. But the current freezing climate made that challenging. “You can’t look for fossils under the ice because it’s two miles thick in places,” says Peter Makovicky. He’s a paleontologist at the Field Museum who was on the team. 

Their dig site was on Mount Kirkpatrick. Its summit is one of the few ice-free places on the frozen continent. Each day, the scientists would dress in thick red parkas. Then they would hop into helicopters that would take them to the dig site on the mountaintop.

“Most of the fossils from Antarctica are in very hard rock,” says Akiko Shinya, chief fossil preparator at the Field Museum and part of the team. They had to use chisels, hammers, and gasoline-powered rock saws, to reach the fossils. (Paleontologists typically use gentler equipment like brushes to avoid harming delicate fossils.)

Every day, the scientists dressed in thick red parkas. They hopped into helicopters that took them to their dig site. They searched for fossils on Mount Kirkpatrick. The top of this mountain is one of the few places on the continent with no ice.

“Most of the fossils from Antarctica are in very hard rock,” says team member Akiko Shinya. She’s the Field Museum scientist in charge of preparing fossils for scientific analysis. Scientists usually use gentle tools like brushes to remove fossils without breaking them, says Shinya. But in Antarctica, they had to use chisels, hammers, and gasoline-powered rock saws.

Despite the tough conditions, the team found about 200 fossils. They include a 26-foot-long dinosaur called a Cryolophosaurus and a giant amphibian that looks like a cross between a crocodile and a frog. They also discovered a plant-eating dinosaur species similar to a Brontosaurus. “It’s so new, we haven’t given it a name yet,” says Makovicky.

The scientists turned their work into an exhibit, which is now traveling the U.S. In June, the exhibit will open in Los Angeles, California, and later move to North Carolina and Utah.

Back at the Field Museum, the team continues to analyze the fossils. “One of the research goals was to discover new dinosaurs and try and piece together how Antarctica might have changed over time,” says Makovicky.

Despite the tough conditions, the team found about 200 fossils. One was from a 26-foot-long dinosaur called a Cryolophosaurus. Another was from a giant amphibian that looks like a cross between a crocodile and a frog. They also discovered a plant-eating dinosaur species similar to a Brontosaurus. “It’s so new, we haven’t given it a name yet,” says Makovicky.

The scientists put many of the fossils on display in a museum exhibit. The exhibit is now going around the U.S. In June, it will open in Los Angeles, California. It will later move to North Carolina and Utah.

Back at the Field Museum, the team is still analyzing fossils from the 2017 expedition. “One of the research goals was to discover new dinosaurs and try and piece together how Antarctica might have changed over time,” says Makovicky.

Use this information to convert measurements from the Antarctic expedition. Round all of your answers to the nearest hundredth. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

Use this information to convert measurements from the Antarctic expedition. Round all of your answers to the nearest hundredth. Record your work and answers on our answer sheet.

To get to Antarctica, the scientists flew from Chicago, Illinois, to McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica (with stops in California and New Zealand). The total distance is about 14,890 kilometers. What’s this distance in miles?

To get to Antarctica, the scientists flew from Chicago, Illinois, to McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica (with stops in California and New Zealand). The total distance is about 14,890 kilometers. What’s this distance in miles?

Field Museum

Antarctosuchus amphibian

During their expedition to Antarctica, scientists found a fossil of a giant amphibian. It’s likely a member of the Antarctosuchus family. These creatures were about 2,000 millimeters long. How long is that in inches?

During their expedition to Antarctica, scientists found a fossil of a giant amphibian. It’s likely a member of the Antarctosuchus family. These creatures were about 2,000 millimeters long. How long is that in inches?

A. Cryolophosaurus is an Antarctic dinosaur. It’s nicknamed Elvisaurus for the crest on its skull that looks like Elvis Presley’s hairdo. The fossil that the scientists found measures 7.92 meters. What is this length in feet?

A. Cryolophosaurus is an Antarctic dinosaur. It’s nicknamed Elvisaurus for the crest on its skull that looks like Elvis Presley’s hairdo. The fossil that the scientists found measures 7.92 meters. What is this length in feet?

B. The skull crest on one Cryolophosaurus is 0.25 feet long. What’s that in millimeters?

B. The skull crest on one Cryolophosaurus is 0.25 feet long. What’s that in millimeters?

Glacialisaurus hammeri is another dinosaur from Antarctica. Scientists have discovered and identified only four bones of this species! But they estimate that this dinosaur was between 6,100 millimeters and 762 centimeters long. What is this range in inches?

Glacialisaurus hammeri is another dinosaur from Antarctica. Scientists have discovered and identified only four bones of this species! But they estimate that this dinosaur was between 6,100 millimeters and 762 centimeters long. What is this range in inches?

Back to top
videos (1)
Skills Sheets (5)
Skills Sheets (5)
Skills Sheets (5)
Skills Sheets (5)
Skills Sheets (5)
Lesson Plan (2)
Lesson Plan (2)
Read Aloud