Wielding chainsaws to extract fossils frozen into the permafrost and flying drones to map thousands of footprints, intrepid paleontologists discover that dinosaurs thrived in the unlikeliest of places—the cold and dark of the Arctic Circle.
That’s the pitch for a NOVA program that will air on KUAC TV 9.1 Wednesday, Jan. 19 at 9 p.m. (The program repeats Jan. 23 at 4 p.m.)
The documentary focuses on two major Alaskan dinosaur sites that are the focus of UAF Professor and UA Museum Director Patrick Druckenmiller’s research: the North Slope and Denali National Park. For several years he has co-led expeditions to these sites looking for bones, teeth and tracks of dinosaurs that lived in Arctic settings about 70 million years ago.
“I was approached by a London-based media company a few years back about the idea of joining our team for some of this work. At the time we were planning a novel type of expedition: conducting Arctic fieldwork in the winter. We went there at that time for safety reasons; we dig along cliffs that are a risk of collapsing unexpectedly in the summer when the permafrost melts. We wanted to dig the single most important dinosaur-bearing layer of rock in Alaska, and we successfully pulled it off. The film crew was there to record it all. They also joined our team in Denali to document some of the biggest dinosaur track sites in the state.”
Druckenmiller hopes people who watch the NOVA program take away a sense of the uniqueness of Alaskan dinosaurs, the challenging world they lived in climatically at the time, and importance of polar dinosaurs in understanding big picture questions such as dinosaur migration, warm vs. cold bloodedness and reproduction. “I also think there are important lessons in how much different the world was, and can be in the future,” he said.
“I’m grateful to work with a great team of collaborators, students and volunteers. I’m also proud that our work has helped put Alaska on the map as a globally important place to study dinosaurs. There is so much more to learn.”