Wednesday, November 11, 2009

PBS special to follow Dallas scientist's dinosaur skull excavation.

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Oct. 6--Dinosaurs and cold weather would seemingly go together like oil and water. But a Dallas-based paleontologist is working to explain how these creatures could have lived in freezing temperatures -- and bringing added visibility to Dallas' Museum of Nature & Science.

Tony Fiorillo, curator of earth sciences at the museum, will be featured Tuesday on PBS' NOVA: Arctic Dinosaurs. Crews followed him as he led expeditions to northern Alaska in 2006 and 2007 to unearth 70-million-year-old dinosaur fossils. The national broadcast, occurring before the second presidential debate, is big publicity for Dr. Fiorillo and the museum. "It gives us a chance to show what this museum does," Dr. Fiorillo said. Nicole Small, chief executive officer of the museum, said the exposure is a "spectacular opportunity for the city of Dallas." She said the program, which includes footage in Dallas, highlights the research that goes on out of the public eye.

Dr. Fiorillo, who has a doctorate in vertebrate paleontology, has been with the Fair Park museum since 1995 and began work on the arctic dinosaur project in 1998. Weather has been the biggest hurdle in Alaska. Mid-June through mid-August is the only time for research in the area, which is well north of the Arctic Circle. But even the short summer season can be instantly slowed by bitterly cold winds. Film crews who followed Dr. Fiorillo and his team were present for the discovery of the skull of a pachyrhinosaurus, an herbivore that was a distant cousin of the more familiar triceratops. Its total length was 20 to 25 feet, and its skull is roughly the size of a typical desk. Dr. Fiorillo found the skull on the ledge of a cliff that sticks out 300 feet. After excavation, the skull was plastered, wrapped in burlap, put in heavy-duty netting and moved from the site by helicopter.

"It's the most nerve-racking part," Dr. Fiorillo said. The specimen made its way to Dallas for cleaning and reconstruction after a series of plane and truck rides. Ron Tykoski, who has been working at the museum and with Dr. Fiorillo since 2005, is the one who delicately works to remove the parts of the skull. "Still lots to do and learn," Dr. Tykoski said. "The skull is slightly damaged." The scientists expect to find more answers about what happened to the dinosaurs once the reconstruction is done and analysis can begin. Work on the skull has been going on for two years. Dr. Fiorillo hopes to have it and other fossils from Alaska exhibited within a few years. "It should be a display-quality specimen," he said. One possibility for an exhibition space includes the facility the museum is set to build on the southern edge of Victory Park. Construction is slated to begin next year, and Ms. Small said publicity from the PBS special can brand the new facility as one where the newest and most current research will be displayed. "This is a major, major stepping point for us," she said. FAIR PARK DINOSAURS -- NOVA: Arctic Dinosaurs airs Tuesday on KERA (Channel 13) at 7 p.m. -- You can watch paleontologists cleaning and removing dinosaur fossils in the basement of the Nature Building of the Museum of Nature & Science in Fair Park. Glass windows allow museum visitors to see inside the working lab. -- On the second floor of the same building, you can view a model of what a pachyrhinosaurus would have looked like. -- Museum hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday

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Source Citation
"PBS special to follow Dallas scientist's dinosaur skull excavation." Dallas Morning News [Dallas, TX] 6 Oct. 2008. General OneFile. Web. 11 Nov. 2009. .

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