Spitsbergen Mesozoic Research Group
The Mesozoic Era, the «Age of reptiles», lasted from 252 to 66 million years ago and included the time periods Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous. The earliest dinosaurs were its most famous inhabitants, but this era is also known for unique ecosystems on land, in water and in the air. The supercontinent Pangea split up and by the end of the Cretaceous the continents had come close to the present day position. The climate experienced several drastic changes throughout the era.
Pliosaur hunting ichthyosaurs.
Nowhere in the world is the history of life on Earth better documented than on the archipelago of Svalbard, including its largest island Spitsbergen. Svalbard has deposits from the entire Mesozoic, both marine and terrestrial, and even though geological research has a long tradition in the Arctic, the majority of the area is still unexplored.
Since 2004 Spitsbergen Mesozoic Research Group has excavated and conducted research on the Mesozoic ecosystems on Svalbard. The project has a broad span and covers marine reptiles, dinosaur tracks, invertebrates, methane seeps and sedimentology. The project started in 2001, when a group of scientists and students found a fossil plesiosaur in the black shale in the Slottsmøya Member of the Agardhfjellet Formation (Volgian, Upper Jurassic). The discovery was reported to Professor Jørn H. Hurum at the Natural History Museum in Oslo who set up an expedition to collect the fossil in 2004. During this expedition, additional discoveries were made, and in 2012 the team completed a highly productive, eight year field campaign to excavate marine reptiles. The team collected more than 40 specimens of marine reptiles and was scientifically prolific in its products, including 24 peer-reviewed papers, eight master degrees, two completed doctoral degrees and three PhDs still in progress.
The outreach efforts of the project has had worldwide impact through documentaries at National Geographic Channel, History/BBC, ZDF and many national TV programs, blogs, a children book, and numerous popular papers and lectures.
In 2014 the project continued, and the team went to Isfjorden on Spitsbergen to map older marine reptiles, from the Triassic. These fossils will be important for understanding the evolution of ichthyosaurs globally. No major field-based research program has been conducted on Triassic reptiles in Svalbard for a century since the first important discoveries were made by a Swedish research group. In 2015 the team returned to Flowerdalen and excavated several fossil skeletons discovered the previous year, and the localities look promising also for further excavation expeditions.
Hurum, Druckenmiller & Knutsen demonstrating the powerful wind at Knorringfjellet, 2008
May-Liss Knudsen preparing the ichthyosaur skull, Natural History Museum, Oslo