The first-ever Foundation Mamont – Explorers Club World Exploration Challenge Grant of $100,000 has been awarded to Dr. Anthony Fiorillo, Vice President of Research and Collections and Chief Curator at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas for his submission, “Ancient Beringia in a Greenhouse Polar World—At the Northern Edge of Dinosaurs and Their Environments.” The announcement was made by Alan H. Nichols, former President of The Explorers Club, and Frederik Paulsen, Fellow and Honorary Director of the Explorers Club and a representing Member of Foundation Mamont. While membership was not a requisite for consideration, Dr. Fiorillo is a member of The Explorers Club.
Dr. Fiorillo will lead a team of scientists to track the migration of polar dinosaurs across the Arctic as they experienced the Greenhouse climate of 70 to 100 million years ago. The team will include noted scientist Dr. Paul McCarthy of the University of Alaska and Eric Orphys, associate director of the expedition, and new masters student at the University of Alaska, who will start his work in paleoenvironmental reconstruction and paleoclimate study.
The expedition will navigate down the Kukpowruk River in the remote Coke Basin of extreme Northwestern Alaska to explore a terrestrial ecosystem 25 million years older than has ever been examined before, from an era when the ancient Arctic was one of the warmest places on Earth.
In making the announcement, Mr. Nichols said:
“This expedition will have a broad impact on scientific research around the world, particularly as it may affect the Arctic. The Explorers Club welcomed the very difficult challenge of selecting a winner from among many excellent proposals. Given the quality of submissions and the generosity of Mr. Paulsen and Foundation Mamont we know the 21st century will be the Golden Age of Exploration.”
Mr. Paulsen added:
“Our polar regions have much to tell us about the earth, sustainability and climate change. Foundation Mamont is keen to encourage scientific endeavor in these remote places to make important discoveries and to inspire the next generations of polar explorers. We are excited to help launch and to follow the progress of this extraordinary expedition.”
Dr. Fiorillo’s proposal was chosen from among more than 100 submissions from 22 countries. Each submission was reviewed by a scientific/exploration panel of experts headed by Explorers Club member Les Guthman, the Emmy-nominated creator and former executive producer of Outside Television and the DISCOVER MAGAZINE television series. The panel reported that Dr. Fiorillo’s proposal, “represented all of the best values of cutting edge exploration and original scientific inquiry that the Explorers Club and Foundation Mamont envisioned for the World Exploration Challenge.”
Mr. Guthman said:
“The World Exploration Challenge, made possible by a significant grant from Foundation Mamont and Frederik Paulsen, opens new doors of exploration to Explorer Club members and non-members alike. In addition to scientific research, the World Exploration Challenge nurtures the spirit of adventure that motivates new and exciting thinking by explorers and scientists everywhere.”
The winning expedition will carry an Explorers Club flag. This distinctive symbol of excellence has been carried on expeditions by Club members since 1918. When the expedition launches in August 2015, the Perot Museum of Nature and Science plans to host the running log of the expedition’s progress on their website, which will also reside on the Explorers Club website.
Description of the Winning Submission:
Dr. Anthony Fiorillo and Dr. Paul McCarthy have spent the last decade exploring and documenting the dinosaurs of Alaska, drawn to look for dinosaurs in places others have not been. As a result, Dr. Fiorillo made the first dinosaur discovery in any national park in Alaska – Aniakchak National Monument— and his teams have now documented dinosaurs in four national parks in the state. They have also named four new dinosaurs from the work they have done throughout Alaska. While Dr. Fiorillo studies the dinosaurs, Dr. McCarthy studies the mud between their toes. His work on fossil soils has provided tremendous insights into the ancient environments in which these newly discovered dinosaurs lived.
Their work on polar dinosaurs and ecosystems has focused on the geographic region known as Beringia, the land bridge connection between Asia and North America whereby animals and plants migrated from one continental land mass to the other. Most of the work that has documented this ancient polar dinosaurian ecosystem is from rocks approximately 70 million years old.
In August 2015, their Foundation Mamont – Explorers Club World Exploration Challenge expedition will use a small inflatable boat to navigate the remote Kukpowruk River through the geologic structure known as the Coke Basin, exploring an even older polar terrestrial ecosystem at a time when this critical biogeographic feature formed. Their efforts will push the boundary of global understanding of Beringia, dinosaurian biogeography, and terrestrial polar ecosystem evolution back in time another 25 million years, to a period when this ancient Arctic world was at one of the warmest times in Earth history.
Drs. Fiorillo and McCarthy will use standard paleontological and sedimentological field techniques to detail the distribution of fossil vertebrates, particularly dinosaurs, and integrate the data with stratigraphic, sedimentologic, fossil plant, fossil soil and geochemical datasets. They will work with additional colleagues as needed and use this integration to characterize the evolution of this polar terrestrial environment through one of the most significant greenhouse phases in Earth history.
They will not only fill critical holes in the understanding of dinosaurs, their ecosystems and climate, but given that modern society is concerned with the impacts of a warming climate, and more specifically what a warm Arctic will look like, this study, set in an ancient warm Arctic, will also address fundamental questions of human needs on a warmer planet.