Why Have So Few Dinosaur Fossils Been Found in Antarctica?

Why have so few dinosaur fossils been found in Antarctica? It’s because ninety-eight percent of the continent is covered in ice.

Seriously, it’s hard enough digging a camping latrine in icy ground.

A fossil excavation is just well-nigh impossible.

There are, surprisingly, dinosaur fossils in Antarctica. 

However, finding them is very difficult to manage. 

That’s not to say, of course, fossils haven’t been found near Antarctica.

There are islands that aren’t solid packed ice year around.

What’s more, rocks that are exposed on the islands along the Antarctic Peninsula and the tops of the Transantarctic Mountains are of late Triassic, Jurassic, or Cretaceous periods. 

These are the geologic time periods in which dinosaurs lived.

In 1982, plesiosaur fossils were found on Seymour Island.

Four years later, an ankylosaur fossil was found on James Ross Island.

Even the famous Byrd Expedition reported finding fossilized plants on the sides of Mt. Weaver.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Fossils That Have Been Discovered in Antarctica 

Let’s keep in mind that Antarctica was not always a frozen wasteland.

More than four hundred million years ago, it was once part of a supercontinent called Gondwana.

Antarctica was once connected to what is now Australia and both were located on the equator.

At the time, the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere was considerably higher than in present day. 

Gondwana began to disintegrate about one hundred and thirty million years ago.

Continental drift happened and roughly thirty million years ago, the Southern Ocean started to circulate about the southern world. 

This led to the modern Antarctic environment evolving into what it is now. 

The tragic remains of explorer Robert Falcon Scott and his men were discovered in a tent.

They had been on their way back from the South Pole.

Specimens of Glossopteris tree fossils of the Beardmore Glacier region were discovered with the dead men’s belongings.

While they had gotten rid of just about everything else as a means of survival, the importance of the Glossopteris was recognized, and so they did not leave the specimens behind.

These specimens are about two hundred and eighty to three hundred million years old.

Quite a few dinosaur fossils have been found throughout the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The majority of found specimens include the ankylosaur, plesiosaurus and mosasaur. 

Marine Plain in the Vestfold Hills has an impressive diversity of fossils dating from 4.5 to 4.1 million years ago.

This includes several species of whales and dolphins. 

What Hampers Archeological Efforts in Antarctica?

Besides frozen ground, archeologists and paleontologists find the same problems in Antarctica that other scientists do.

The Antarctic Treaty System is a necessary peacekeeping operation, but it can present some sticky red tape.

Threats of climate change give digging expeditions an “It’s now or never” feel to them.

Scientists of all branches want to study Antarctica, but in a way that doesn’t fundamentally change the land.

Already, pollution is affecting the land.

It seems a few people who just had to have photos of wild penguins left behind some Twinkie wrappers.   

Current Exploration Efforts in the Antarctic 

Recent studies of the Antarctic fossil record have led scientists to conclude that a dearth of carbon dioxide can lead to global cooling.

One such “icehouse state” occurred on Earth thirty-four million years ago.

Before this event, Antarctica was a lush rainforest rather than the frozen waste it is now.

This conclusion was drawn from the analyzation of microscopic fossils from bacterial lipids that were preserved in coal from the Eocene Epoch and the Oligocene Epoch as well as across the transition. 

In October of 2020, it was discovered that shortly after the mass extinction of the dinosaurs, giant birds soared in the skies over Antarctica.

The fossilized remains of the pelagornithids are as old as fifty million years and reveals that these birds had wingspans of twenty-one feet in length.

That’s big enough to cover a U-Haul truck and dwarfs the modern albatross.

The skull of a pelagornithid would be two feet long with a beak full of inch long pseudo teeth. (They probably didn’t feel so pseudo to the fish they caught.)

The Likelihood of There Being More Fossils in Antarctica  

Antarctica is a very big continent.

There probably are a myriad of fossils there.

Excavating for them is the hard part.

The British Antarctic Survey has collected some forty thousand specimens since their conception in the 1940s.

Many of these fossils are the shells of invertebrates that have been instrumental in dating the surrounding rock.

Most of them date back to the Mesozoic Era.

Most of the fossils in the collection are mollusks and arthropods.

Some echinoderms such as starfish and sea urchins have been found.

A surprising abundance of plant fossils have been found in Antarctica, leaving us only to imagine what the frozen land could have been at one time.  

Going to Antarctica?

Would you like to go to Antarctica to look for fossils to bring home?

Tough! Unless you’re part of an official scientific expedition, getting there will be hard enough.

There are no commercial flights to the region, so tourists usually get there by cruise ship. 

The International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators wish for travel in Antarctica to be both safe and environmentally responsible.

Tourism is allowed only between November and March.

Tourists are asked to stringently follow the “Take only pictures, leave only footprints” ethic.

So, even if you are massively lucky to find a fossil just lying around, you’ll just have to leave it where you found it.

Just take note of the location and take a picture. This is for the good of everyone.  

Conclusion

It is quite surprising to find that a place like Antarctica was at one point rich in plant life and populated by dinosaurs.

Finding fossilized remains of these former lifeforms is difficult to start with.

Extracting them from frozen earth is even harder.

Still, it is important to learn what life was before humanity.  

Why Have So Few Dinosaur Fossils Been Found in Antarctica