Dallas shows off dinosaurs on ice

October 7, 2008

Viewers of NOVA tonight get to see some of the pride of Dallas on display.  “Arctic Dinosaurs” documents the work of a paleontologist from the Dallas Museum of Nature and Science digging dinosaurs in or near the Arctic Circle.

NOVA takes viewers on an exciting Arctic trek as one team of paleontologists attempts a radical “dig” in northern Alaska, using explosives to bore a 60-foot tunnel into the permafrost in search of fossil bones. Both the scientists and the filmmakers face many challenges while on location, including plummeting temperatures and eroding cliffs prone to sudden collapse. Meanwhile, a second team of scientists works high atop a treacherous cliff to unearth a massive skull, all the while battling time, temperature, and voracious mosquitoes.

The hardy scientists shadowed in “Arctic Dinosaurs” persevere because they are driven by a compelling riddle: How did dinosaurs—long believed to be cold-blooded animals—endure the bleak polar environment and navigate in near-total darkness during the long winter months? Did they migrate over hundreds of miles of rough terrain like modern-day herds of caribou in search of food? Or did they enter a dormant state of hibernation, like bears? Could they have been warm-blooded, like birds and mammals? Top researchers from Texas, Australia, and the United Kingdom converge on the freezing tundra to unearth some startling new answers.

Tony Fiorillo, curator of earth sciences at the Dallas museum, is one of the scientists featured in the NOVA production.  The film highlights the museum’s efforts to push science work as well as displays for the public.

Previously, the museum had relied on Texas volunteers to help unearth and mount displays on prehistoric creatures from Texas, under the direction of Charles Finsley, a venerable Texas geologist.  One one hand, it’s good to see the level of science kicked up a notch or two.  On the other hand, it was great to have such a high level outlet for amateur and future, volunteer scientists at a major  museum.

In any case, the PBS program demonstrates that science goes on in Texas despite foolish creationist eruptions from the State Board of Education.  Every piece of accurate information helps eclipse the anti-science leanings of education officials.

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Update:  Wonderful program.  There’s a lot of good science, and a good deal of geography in the program.  Geography teachers may want to think about using this as supplement to anything dealing with Alaska, or the Arctic.


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