March 29, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

How Could Polar Dinosaurs Survive Freezing, Darkness?

National Geographic News has a report about a new exhibit of dinosaur fossils that have been found in the northern and southern polar regions.  These unusual creatures had to survive not only the cold, but also, due to the effects of orbital mechanics, six months of darkness each year.  Intrepid explorers in south Australia, northern Canada, Patagonia, Alaska and Antarctica have braved the elements since the 1980s to find dinosaur bones in the extreme polar regions.  Their discoveries have changed our conceptions of dinosaur metabolism and the ecosystems in which they lived.  Polar dinosaurs include:

  • Hypsolophodontids: “small, speedy, plant-eating dinosaurs that ran on two feet.”  They had large eyes, apparently adapted to low light levels, and bones that grew throughout the year, suggesting they were warm blooded.  The plants on which they fed apparently did not drop their leaves during the winter.
  • A horned dinosaur named Serendipaceratops arthurcclarkei (no kidding) must have looked like something out of a sci-fi movie.  NG claims this is “one of the oldest horned, or frilled, dinosaurs known, which suggests that horned dinosaurs may have originated in the southern polar region.”
  • A sauropod, possibly the largest found in Antarctica, is being analyzed.  It was found at 13,000 feet elevation.
  • An allosaurus-like meat eater named Cryolophosaurus ellioti was 22 feet long.

The exhibit at Seattle’s Burke Museum is called “Dinosaur of Darkness.”

Throughout the world there are mysteries.  Fossils give silent evidence of a very different world in the past; a world with polar regions that must have supported lush plant life and rich ecologies of diverse plants and animals larger than those living today.  Large redwood stumps have also been found in the Arctic circle (see 03/22/2002 headline), and there are the legendary frozen mammoths of Siberia.
    This article suggests that “the climate was warmer then than it is now,” but puzzles over the fact that these dinosaurs must have “endured months of darkness and temperatures that plunged below freezing.”  For plants to have supported herbivores and carnivores of this size near the poles, it would seem there must have been atmospheric conditions that evened out the lighting and temperature.
    As for horned dinosaurs originating near the south pole, we laugh, ha ha, at this funny joke.

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Categories: Dinosaurs, Fossils

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