Dinosaur remains at Jurassic site 'could help plan for climate change'
By Eleanor Barlow, PA
Work uncovering dozens of dinosaur remains at a Jurassic site could help the world plan for climate change, a scientist on the project has said.
Bones, fossils and tracks from the prehistoric creatures have been excavated from the Mission Jurassic site in Wyoming, USA.
Professor Phil Manning, chairman of natural history at the University of Manchester and one of the lead scientists on the project, said the site offered a window on the world 150 million years ago.
He said: "The Jurassic period was a time of global climate change. As the supercontinent of Pangea broke up, this had massive impacts on atmospheric circulation patterns around the globe, impacting the evolution of all life on Earth.
"By studying the organismal adaptations and environmental change occurring in the Jurassic we can learn much about how life 'found a way'.
"If we can learn from the past, using the hindsight of the fossil record, we might plan for a brighter future under the current shadow of massive climate change."
Prof Manning, fellow lead scientist Dr Victoria Egerton and a team from Manchester have partnered with the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, the Natural History Museum in London and the Naturalis Biodiversity Centre in Leiden, Netherlands, to work on the £20 million project to explore, research and eventually exhibit fossils from the site.
Nearly 600 specimens, including the bones of an 80ft-long brachiosaur and a 90ft diplodocid, had already been collected from part of the site in the two years before the project was announced in March.
Since then, Prof Manning said, dozens of dinosaur remains have been uncovered in quarries on the mile-square piece of land.
The Children's Museum of Indianapolis, the lead organisation on the project, said seven tons of fossil material had been excavated and transported to the museum.
The finds include saurapods, some of the largest land animals to have lived, and meat-eating allosaurs as well as ichthysaurs, dolphin-like creatures with eyes as big as dinner plates, and thousands of mollusk fossils known as Devil's Toenails.
Prof Manning said: "My University of Manchester team has been working hard with the Children's Museum of Indianapolis to differentiate between the multiple species of sauropod, theropod and ornithischian dinosaurs.
"It is tough going as the bones are often tumbled together in what looks like an impossible game of dinosaur Twister... that ended badly!"
As well as the remains, the team has uncovered a "world-class series" of dinosaur tracks.
"The more we find, the less I seem to know, as the site is giving us such a vast amount of data," Prof Manning said. "It can be a little overwhelming."
Just 1% of the site has been explored and Prof Manning said what has been found so far has been incredibly preserved.
He said: "The bones, in many cases, look as if the animal staggered to a halt mere days ago and was then frozen in the sands of time.
"The combination of amazing fossil tracks, plants and bones, combined with vast and fossil-rich exposures, is making the Mission Jurassic site an important window on life on Earth 150 million years ago.
"We are so excited to be able to tell this story through a huge future exhibit at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis, but also through our research at the University of Manchester."