Life in the Sea Monster Lab – Bones & Dubstep

In 2012, the Spitsbergen Jurassic Research Group led by National Geographic Explorer Dr. Jørn Hurum finished off their final field season on Svalbard. After eight consecutive years, the project of locating and excavating marine reptiles from the Upper Jurassic has been a success. Nevertheless, the team is not as dead as the reptiles. Down in the dark basement of the Geological Museum there is a laboratory, where all the prehistoric sea monsters from Svalbard are brought back to life.

By Aubrey Roberts and Victoria Engelschiøn Nash

So we have set ourselves some goals, and there is not a lack in work needed to be done. Obviously, this is not an office job. So how is it really going to work every day down in the basement?

Flexible Hours, Rainy Days

A normal workday is eight hours, and office hours at the museum are 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. However, as no one really depends on us on a daily basis, life in the lab follows its own rhythm. This is more often than not based on the weather. If it is sunny, we might have lunch in the botanical gardens, or even bring the bones outside. However, in July, seeing the sun is a rare event in Norway–most of the days we have light summer rain. For the past weeks, it has been raining more or less every day. Getting wet is one thing, but with temperatures at nine degrees Celsius when you leave home in the morning? Is this really summer?

“Bones, bones, brittle little bones. It’s not the milk you seek, it’s the sun you need”. Opening quote from the Islands’ song, “Don’t call me Whitney, Bobby”. Photo courtesy of May-Liss Funke.
“Bones, bones, brittle little bones. It’s not the milk you seek, it’s the sun you need”. Opening quote from the Islands’ song, “Don’t call me Whitney, Bobby”. (Photo courtesy of May-Liss Funke)

Therefore, we stay inside, listening to music, drinking coffee until we get headaches. To be honest, the most effective part of the day ends at 4 p.m., due to dizzy heads and sore eyes. Luckily, enthusiasm and concentration do not always go hand in hand, so we just move on to the easier parts. Such as ribs, they only have two ends.

A day in the lab: Concentration vs. enthusiasm graph. Photo courtesy of Aubrey Roberts.
A day in the lab: Concentration vs. enthusiasm graph. (Photo courtesy of Aubrey Roberts)


The Champagne Reward Chart

Ok, so we have already acquired a rather hedonistic habit. To reward ourselves for our fantastic accomplishments, we celebrate with sparkling wine. The projects may range from a single jacket to an entire specimen, depending on difficulty and size. To keep our spirits up, even though the bones appear beyond salvation, the three of us together with Jørn have devised a progression plan. This is the Champagne Reward Chart. We agree beforehand what is worth a bottle. This is then approved by Jørn, and signed upon completion. As none of us drive to work, any day can be champagne day. So it is important to always do your best for the benefit of the group.

The Champagne Reward Chart Photo: Photo courtesy of Victoria E. Nash.
The Champagne Reward Chart (Photo courtesy of Victoria E. Nash)


The Playlists

Another way of keeping up our spirits up is music. Throughout the two weeks of intensive field research last year, it was easy to conclude that some tracks work better than others. By a stroke of luck, Aubrey’s really, really old telephone proved quite resistant to the frost and mud on Svalbard and allowed us to test the effectiveness of different songs in raising our spirits. The study was conducted by playing the fifteen songs she had on it over and over again, till we knew them all by heart and started making our own versions.

Skrillex, the best music after five Red Bulls and ten days of hard labour. (Video courtesy of Victoria E. Nash)


When performing these to the other group members, they were often a bit too honest in their opinions. We cannot understand why.


NEXT: Read All “Sea Monsters 2013″ Blog Posts


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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