Changing Planet

Midnight Sun Fun

The hunt for fossils in the far-flung reaches of Svalbard is on! Jørn Hurum and his associates ply the arctic waters and snows of Svalbard to dig up some of the northernmost dinosaur fossils in the world. Their findings, particularly of ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs, are some of the most unique on record.

By Aubrey Roberts and Victoria Engelschiøn Nash

Two more days of prospecting has passed, and the area just continues to surprise us with its richness and variety. So far, we have found a whole bunch of fossils none of us are familiar with, so we are collecting as much as possible to bring back to Oslo for further study and research. This is field research, in the really old-fashioned way.

The guys and Aubrey returning to camp. Photo courtesy of Victoria Engelschiøn Nash.
The guys and Aubrey returning to camp. (Photo by Victoria Engelschiøn Nash)

On the look-out for plesiosaurian ancestors in slightly younger rocks, the team stumbled upon older rocks instead. A weird geological phenomena? Well, not really, as tectonics moves sections of rocks up, down or to the sides, which is called faulting. Basically, one section of rock got moved on top of the same section again, so it’s a repeat. This seriously confused us. However, Stig found a pocket of bones that were all from different animals. We found a bone bed where vertebrae from amphibians, fish and sharks alongside ribs and bits of jaw poured out of the mountainside.

Aubrey and Jørn brushing the surface of the bone bed. Photo courtesy of Victoria Engelschiøn Nash .
Aubrey and Jørn brushing the surface of the bone bed. (Photo by Victoria Engelschiøn Nash)

With just four more full days to go, we are all eager to continue making discoveries. We realize that matching what we have found will be difficult, in this universe at least. And after a week and a half, it really feels like we are in our own universe. Everyone is following the same slow, steady pulse of sleeping, eating and searching. More or less, that is. Some of us still get up at seven, while others sleep till twelve. But we all know that evening is when the sun starts passing over the mouth of Flowerdalen, around midnight. As we are writing this, the group is eagerly gathering for the nightly ritual of supper. Today, it consists of smoked ham, roasted like bacon over the propane fire.

The sun moving ’round the mountain. (Photo by Aubrey Roberts)

Tomorrow, the hunt for plesiosaurian ancestors continues, as we still have yet to find anything substantial, although we have a lot of other strange material to make up for it. We have covered a lot of ground, but there are still more gullies and mountainsides to explore.

Jørn on the look-out for plesiosaurs. Photo courtesy of Victoria Engelschiøn Nash.
Jørn on the look-out for plesiosaurs. (Photo by Victoria Engelschiøn Nash)

Read More By Jørn Hurum and His Associates

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

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