Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Arctic Dinosaurs

On Monday, John Sibbick kindly supplied me with an image of one of his pieces which depicted dinosaurs below the Antarctic circle. If you're wondering what may have been happening on the other side of the globe, the NOVA episode Arctic Dinosaurs may clear it up for you.

It deals with our attempts to build an accurate picture of what life was like in Late Cretaceous Alaska, where we've found evidence of a thriving ecosystem, despite the fact that it was much closer to the North Pole than it is today. The most fascinating segment deals with British paleobotanist Robert Spicer, who developed a technique to tell average temperature in an area based on the ratio of smooth-edged to jagged-edged leaves. Spicer determines that in the Late Cretaceous, the Alaskan north slope had a climate somewhat like that of modern Canada's Pacific coast. I love the way disparate disciplines converge to increase our understanding of prehistoric life.

I was surprised that every dinosaur was depicted naked - no feathers. This despite the fact that there are plenty of animated troodons scampering around. It is very likely that Troodon bore feathers, even more likely if some of them lived north of the Arctic circle. Of course, feathers are much harder to animate than smooth or scaly skin... another reason to kick some loose change PBS's way.

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