Spitsbergen Expedition: Fossil Hunting in a Snow Storm

2011 Emerging Explorer Jørn Hurum is currently leading a fossil-finding expedition to Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, continuing the work that has yielded many spectacular fossils through the years (Giant “Sea Monster” Fossil Discovered). Follow the expedition here on Nat Geo NewsWatch.

Days 9 & 10

One day we could enjoy really sunny weather, where the most courageous of us were wearing t-shirts, and then the next day the snow storm came over us. But our days here are limited so the work has to go on regardless of the weather!

Day 9: Nille’s Big Day

When running from a polar bear yesterday, Nille stumbled over some fossils that turned out to be a very nice Ichthyosaur with a complete flipper. After uncovering more bones the whole morning it was time for lunch, and on the way back to the camp she picked up a beautiful stone, that Jørn realized was a tooth of a Pliosaurus. First we have found so far!

After lunch Krzysztof wanted to explore some seeps close to the Karoline valley, so several of us joined the expedition. He knew what to look for so he was very successful–he found a lot of ammonite shells (prehistoric squidlike creatures that lived inside coil-shaped shells) and other interesting stuff.

Again Nille had a nice discovery; she picked from the ground a very well preserved vertebra, but where was the source? We all started searching for it, because this looked very promising. About 50 meters higher up we discovered the source, found several more vertebrae, all remarkably well preserved.  We all wanted to uncover more of this exiting discovery, but it was 2 am, and we had to return to the camp for some few hours’ sleep before the next day.

Day 10: Snow storm

We did not get more than a few hours of sleep. In the night a storm came over us and the wind was so noisy that it was impossible to sleep. But our days are limited, so we had to stick to our schedule regardless of the weather.

The goal of the day was to end the quarries in the Konus valley so that the specimens would be plastered and prepared for the transport back to the Natural History Museum in Oslo. This is hard and dirty work, and the snowstorm didn’t make it more pleasant. With sun urgently needed, Krzysztof, Pat, and Tommy took matters into their own hands (and feet) and danced the sun dance.

As previously described the whole plastering process is long and time consuming. At the end of the process when we are turning the specimen, several days of work can be destroyed in parts of a second if we are unlucky. So every time we are turning a fossil it is equally exciting. This day everything went well– all the fossils survived the turning process.

Returning to the camp at 3 am, after a long day with very hard work, we were still not too tired to enjoy the beauty of a small natural bouquet of Tufted Saxifrage!


Read the full set of posts from the 2011 Spitsbergen “Sea Monster” Expedition.



Meet the Author
Jørn Harald Hurum was born in Drammen, a city on southeastern Norway. Since childhood he has collected fossils and minerals in the Oslo region. Since 2000 he has been employed at the Natural History Museum of the University of Oslo where he works as an associate professor in vertebrate paleontology. At the University he teaches paleontology and evolutionary biology and supervises masters and Ph.D. students. One recent outreach effort brought him on stage before a general audience interested in his Arctic island project excavating fossils of ancient sea monsters. “There was a four-year-old in the front row and he couldn’t stop asking questions, really good questions” Hurum remembers. “This little boy was so excited to know there was somebody else who understood the things he was wondering about. He made my whole day! As a child, I felt very alone with my interest in fossils. Finally at age 13, I discovered there was a museum in Norway that actually employed people to study paleontology. I started corresponding with those scientists and it was such a relief, such an inspiration. I hope I can give some of that spirit back to the next generation.” Learn More About Jørn and His Work