Explorer Allows Public Access to Results of Sea Monster Search

NG Emerging Explorer Jørn Hurum recently returned from an expedition to Spitsbergen Island in the Arctic Circle excavating the remains of ancient marine reptiles worthy of the most fantastic Norse legends. Read about their exciting adventure here on Explorers Journal through their frequent updates from the field. Get the results of the search in the Norwegian Journal of Geology.
By Jørn Hurum

The Spitsbergen Jurassic Research Group has just published the sum of eight field seasons in a volume of Norwegian Journal of Geology and is proud to present the results free of any charge to anyone.

All papers are Open Access. The philosophy of our project has always been openness, bringing media on the expeditions to report about our excavations and having the public visiting the excavation sites in cooperation with Spitsbergen Travel.

Norwegian Journal of Geology is of course peer-reviewed as any proper scientific journal should be. I have never understood why large publishers of scientific journals should earn millions of dollars on scientific results that they have not supported in any way. The scientists write the text, format the illustrations, and pay artists to do reconstructions or technical drawings. The peer review is made free by other researchers; small journals even have scientists as editors. Publishers only do layout of a pdf file, still they get all the money.

I believe the solution is Open Access, and hopefully this volume can show the way for similar projects. The same happened when my co-workers and I published IDA (Darwinius masillae) in PlosOne, this Open Access journal has increased its paleontological content a lot since our paper (2009).

The Results

We published 18 papers in this volume, including the proper descriptions of the environment in the high boreal Late Jurassic sea with sedimentology, stratigraphy and microfossils less than a millimeter to large marine reptiles up to more than 12 meters. We describe a new Pliosaur we have named Pliosaurus funkei . This was since 2009 known as Predator X or just The Monster.

One of my students, Espen M. Knutsen, made part of his Ph.D. on these two partial skeletons. The new taxa show a different anatomy from closely related pliosaurs like Kronosaurus. The flipper we found (3 meters) suggested a 15 meter long animal, but when we finally prepared the vertebrae they were smaller than expected, so we adjusted the body length to 13 meters.The skeletal remains are described in the paper along with images of the pliosaur and of the excavation.

But there is lots more to enjoy in this volume. Two new Ichthyosaur taxa and three new plesiosaur taxa are described too. What we are starting to understand is that the high boreal at the end of the Jurassic was an isolated ocean. We see a fauna of invertebrates and vertebrates that is different from the English Kimmeridge Clay and other well-known localities. 

We slowly start to realize that we got the best locality to study the marine latest Jurassic in the Arctic. We also have a fantastic good stratigraphic control of all the skeletons.

The 3D scan of a Cryopterygius kristiansenae. Courtesy of Jørn Hurum.

The one illustration that will raise a lot of eyebrows in the paleo community at least, is featured above. Just the number of collected specimens (37 skeletons collected during eight fieldseasons) makes this one of the most productive Jurassic marine reptile localities in the World. 

Of marine reptiles we describe: 
-two new ichthyosaur species in two new genera (Cryopterygius kristiansenae, Palvennia hoybergeti)
-three new plesiosaur species, two new genera (Spitrasaurus wensaasi, Spitrasaurus larseni, Djupedalia engeri)
-one new pliosaur specie  (Pliosaurus funkei)

The naming was easy. We decided to honor the volunteers that have followed the project since 2004 with naming one species after each of them. The genera are honoring sponsors and supporters, only one being a “normal” latin name (Cryopterygius).

Palvennia – after the club of amateur fossil colectors PalVenn, supporting the museum and the fieldwork.
Djupedalia – after the former minister of education Øystein Djupedal who supported the project early on in 2007.
Spitrasaurus – after the travelcompany Spitsbergen Travel, supporting logistics and guiding visitors to the excavations.
kristiansenae – after volunteer Lena Kristiansen
hoybergeti – after volunteer Magne Høyberget
engeri – after volunteer Øyvind Enger
wensaasi – after volunteer Tommy Wensaas
larseni – after volunteer Stig Larsen
funkei – after volunteers Bjørn Funke and May-Liss Funke

The team unearths a Cryoteryguis kristianenae. Courtesy of Jørn Hurum.

Several cool issues a part form description of new species are discussed in this volume: 

- we the longest neck of any plesiosaur from the Jurassic ever (60 vertebrae). 
- In all our specimens the hind paddles are longer or of equal length to the front paddles, this is the opposite in the rest of the known plesiosaurs of the World. We have no idea why yet. 
- we have extra “fingers” in some plesiosaur paddles, a trait known from advanced ichthyosaurs, but not well known in plesiosaurs.

- the only complete boreal ophthalmosaurine ichthyosaur ever is described (image attached, 5 meters long!) 
- a long dispute on how to identify right and left hind paddles are solved (no other articulated hind paddles in Ophthalmosaurian latest Jurassic ichthyosaurs are known) 

Methane seeps- 
During mapping we discovered the best methane seep carbonate bodies of the Jurassic (and they are also some of the best from the Mesozoic) with a well preserved invertebrate fauna. 

I hope you will enjoy the volume, it’s free!

In addition to their full-length report, Jørn Hurum and his team published a children's book on their findings

A part from the scientific results we also published a popular science children book about the project the same day. The book is unfortunately only in Norwegian at the moment, but contains lots of nice reconstructions of the animals and stories from high arctic fieldwork.

Changing Planet

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