NOVA “Arctic Dinosaurs”

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– Radical Dinosaur Dig in Frozen Tundra Yields Stunning New Fossils and Clues to Dinos’ Demise –

Most people imagine dinosaurs lurking in warm locales of swamps and jungles, dining on vegetation and each other. But a NOVA documentary reveals that many species also survived and thrived in the harsh environments of the north and south polar regions. Arctic Dinosaurs,airing Wednesday, July 27, 2011 at 9 p.m. on Eight, focuses on two high-stakes expeditions and the paleontologists who push the limits of science to unearth 65-million-year-old fossils buried in the vast Alaskan tundra.

NOVA takes viewers on a thrilling 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 numerous challenges 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 of 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 UK converge on the freezing tundra to unearth some startling new answers.

The experts featured in Arctic Dinosaurs shed light on dinosaur biology as they carefully craft theories about life cycles, environment, weather and extinction. NOVA travels with paleontologist Tony Fiorillo to excavation sites on the North Slope of Alaska to extract a unique skull from the lip of a cliff that threatens to slide into the Colville River far below. Robert Spicer, an expert on prehistoric flora, ingeniously reconstructs the dinosaurs’ environment by studying fossil leaves and suggests that the “veggie” dinosaurs had a plentiful menu of plants to pick from. An expert in fossil footprints and trails, Steve Hasiotis, also concludes that Alaska was once a more lush, warmer and wetter environment than previously imagined. South African researcher Anuyusa Chinsami Turin examines thin cross-sections of dinosaur bones shipped from Alaska to help determine whether the animals were warm-blooded, which was probably essential for them to have survived the harsh winters.

Arctic Dinosaurs finally touches on the ultimate implications of dinosaur survival. Did a catastrophic asteroid impact 65 million years ago wipe out the dinosaurs, as most people now believe, or did more gradual ecological changes play an equally decisive role in their demise? Like a good detective story, Arctic Dinosaurs fingers surprising new suspects in its search for answers to the extinction riddle, including massive volcanic eruptions, shifting continents and a gradual climatic chill — the opposite of today’s global warming.

NOVA brings the world of Arctic dinosaurs vividly to life through compelling computer-generated imagery (CGI). A dramatic animation shows sneaky troodons padding through the snow to ambush hapless hadrosaurs. Producer Chris Schmidt believes that the film will help satisfy audiences’ curiosity about dinosaurs. “After decades of work, the scientists featured in Arctic Dinosaursremain enthusiastic, inquisitive and determined to help unravel the mysteries surrounding dinosaur extinction. Viewers will gain new insights into how dinosaurs lived and why they died out.”

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