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Alaskan "Lost World" was home to cold-weather dinosaurs

Newly discovered 'Arctic dinosaur' Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis. Credit: James Havens

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Wednesday, September 23, 2015, 4:38 PM -

A recent find is challenging everything scientists have known about dinosaurs - a new species of cold-weather dino discovered in Alaska that is now the northernmost dinosaur ever known.

Sixty-nine million years ago, Earth was a much warmer place, with temperatures roughly 10 degrees Celsius higher than they are today, but even then, the northern reaches of what is now North America were thought to be too cold to support a population of reptilian dinosaurs.

A new discovery is challenging that idea, though, as researchers from Florida State University and the University of Alaska Fairbanks have presented a new species of duck-billed dinosaur, now known as Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis (ancient grazer of the Colville River in the local Iñupiaq language).

According to the researchers, Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis could grow up to about 10 metres in length, walked on two legs and grazed on plants, which it ground up using the roughly 1,400 teeth in its mouth.

"What we're finding is basically this lost world of dinosaurs with many new forms completely new to science," FSU Professor of Biological Science Gregory Erickson said in a statement.

Dinos in the snow

Although related to dinosaur species that lived in warmer climates, specifically Edmontosaurus, whose remains have been found in Alberta, Montana and South Dakota, Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis appears to have lived and thrived in a region with an average annual temperature of around 6 degrees Celsius, and likely saw months of snowy winter weather.

Based on their far-north habitat, and the differences found between this species and species further south, Erickson and his colleagues believe that Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis may have been adapted for Arctic living.

WATCH BELOW: Professor Gregory Erickson, of Florida State University, discusses this incredible new find.

Dinosaur fossils have been found in regions further to the north than these - specifically hadrosaur bones discovered on Axel Heiberg Island in Nunavut. While those retain the title of "northernmost discovery," this new find becomes the species that actually lived further north than any other found so far.

Greg Erickson works in a spot of the Liscomb Bed dig site.
Photo courtesy Greg Erickson

This is due to difference in orientation of modern day North America versus the North America from around 70 million years ago. Axel Heiberg Island may be further north now, but that is only because the continent has rotated counter-clockwise due to the shifting and jostling of plate tectonics. Back then, both Alaska and Axel Heiberg Island were farther to the east, but Alaska was the farther north of the two locations.

This make Ugrunaaluk kuukpikensis the species that lived farthest north of any known species so far.

"The finding of dinosaurs this far north challenges everything we thought about a dinosaur’s physiology," said Erickson. "It creates this natural question. How did they survive up here?"

From here, the researchers will continue to dig in the fossil rich Prince Creek Formation, exploring fossil specimens from the 13 different dinosaur species they have estimated are buried in sediments there.

Source: FSU | Alaska Dispatch News

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