Scientific Expedition to Antarctica Will Search for Dinosaurs, Ancient Mammals

Research posts

Museum Curators Ross MacPhee and Jin Meng are part of an international team of researchers traveling to Antarctica this month to search for evidence that the now-frozen continent may have been the starting point for some important species that roam the Earth today.

AP3 Zodiac

Members of the research team approaching Antarctica in an inflatable Zodiac vessel.

Photo courtesy of @antarcticdinos


MacPhee and Meng are joined by Abby West, who is pursuing her Ph.D. degree at the Museum as part of a joint program between Columbia University and the Richard Gilder Graduate School.

Abby West Antarctica

Abby West, a Ph.D. student at the Museum's Richard Gilder Graduate School and Columbia University, preparing a fossil in Antarctica.

Image courtesy @antarcticdinos 


Millions of years ago, Antarctica was a warm, lush environment ruled by dinosaurs and inhabited by a great diversity of life. But today, the fossils that could reveal what prehistoric life was like are mostly buried under the ice of the harsh landscape, making the role Antarctica played in the evolution of vertebrates a mystery.

Aided by helicopters, scientists on this month-long expedition will conduct research in the James Ross Island group off the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, one of the few spots on Antarctica where fossil-bearing rocks are accessible.

The team is specifically searching for fossils from the Cretaceous through Paleogene, a period about 100 million to 40 million years ago that includes the end of the Age of Dinosaurs and the beginning of the Age of Mammals. MacPhee, who has worked on the continent before, is looking to learn more about some of those early mammals during this journey.

"What I hope to achieve this time is to discover the first evidence of mammals in the Cretaceous of Antarctica, species that lived at the end of the Age of Dinosaurs,” MacPhee said. “If we can find them, they will have a lot to tell us about whether any evolutionary diversifications took place in Antarctica, and whether this was followed by species spreading from there to other portions of the ancient southern supercontinent Gondwana."

AP3 Landing Site

The Antarctic Peninsula Paleontology Project landing site.

Photo courtesy @antarcticdinos


The team is led by paleontologists from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, The University of Texas at Austin, Ohio University, and the American Museum of Natural History and supported by the National Science Foundation as part of the Antarctic Peninsula Paleontology Project, or AP3. You can follow their exploits on Twitter at @antarcticdinos.