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Polar Extremes In The News


Norwegian scientists recently uncovered a treasure trove of 150 million year old fossils on the Arctic island of Spitzbergen. Spitzbergen is part of the Svalbard island chain which lies roughly halfway between the Norwegian mainland and the North Pole. The fossils belong to several types of giant sea reptile that lurked in the oceans during the time of the dinosaurs. All the rocks with fossils in them were found in cliffs on a remote part of the island. These rocks are made from muddy material that used to lie on the bottom of a deep, cold ocean, millions of years ago. Over time, this mud turned into rock and all the bones that were buried in it turned into fossils. Eventually, as Earth’s continents moved around over millions of years, this rock was pushed up and out of the ocean and was finally eroded away to form the cliffs that can be seen on Spitzbergen today.

The find in Spitzbergen is really important, not just because so many creatures were found in one place, but also because the fossils have been really well preserved. The skeletons are mostly complete, and the bones themselves are in excellent condition.

So what did they find? Amazingly, they discovered 21 long-necked plesiosaurs, 6 ichthyosaurs and 1 large pliosaur. We think ichthyosaurs looked a little like modern dolphins while plesiosaurs had four flippers instead of legs, a long neck and a small head. Some people think that the Loch Ness Monster is a plesiosaur. Pliosaurs are like plesiosurs but have a shorter neck.

The pliosaur bones suggest that this creature was 15 metres long and would probably have weighed around 45 tonnes! One of the plesiosaur skeletons had an ichthyosaur tooth embedded in its neck bones. Did it die after having been attacked? It is possible but we can’t be sure. One thing that scientists are confident about is that these creatures lived at the same time and that they hunted in the same waters, many, many millions of years ago.