200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 2: “Arctic Expedition ”

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photo of paleontological dig
Paleontologists work at the site in Nunavut where Tiktaalik was discovered.

Arctic Expedition

Dr. Ted Daeschler, the Academy's vice president of systematics and the library, recently returned from the remote reaches of Nunavut Territory of Arctic Canada. His return marks his seventh successful exploration of the area, which in combination with his work in the Catskill Formation of northern Pennsylvania, has revealed thousands of new fossils that illuminate the diversity of life and the evolving ecosystems during the late part of the Devonian Period (375-365 million years ago).

The fossils that Ted and his colleagues have uncovered are improving our understanding of the evolutionary transition from finned fish to limbed animals (tetrapods). During a trip to the region in 2004, Ted and his colleagues made the spectacular discovery of Tiktaalik roseae, a 375-million-year-old fossil lobe-finned fish with many features only seen in tetrapods. Tiktaalik roseae is the best example of the evolutionary transition between finned and limbed animals.

During summer 2011, Ted and the team searched a group of never-before-explored rock formations in rivers and deltas for interesting fossils that would shed more light on the geography and environment in which early tetrapods evolved. They hope to learn more about the diversity of animals that flourished during this period.

Their discoveries are currently at the Academy for study. They don't know what the next few months of analysis will uncover, but they hope their findings will provide a more complete picture of life in the Devonian period.

Are you curious about what an Arctic expedition looks like? Do you want to know more about the daily life of a paleontologist during an expedition? Read Ted's blog at ansp.org to learn how he prepared for the trip, survived the climate, and searched for fossils in an area that resembles Mars!

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