South Pole expedition for dinosaur fossils

David Sigston

Antarctica is the unlikely location that may hold the key to explaining how dinosaurs spread across the globe, according to a Queensland scientist heading south on a fossil-hunting expedition.

Palaeontologist Dr Steve Salisbury is one of two Queenslanders, including sedimentologist Dr Eric Roberts, among a group of 12 scientists travelling to Antarctica in February and March.

The expedition to the James Ross Island area, one of the few areas of Antarctica that has exposed rock during summer, is designed to find new evidence that would indicate what dinosaurs may have existed in Australia.

"We're going down there to look for dinosaurs, but also other animals in Antarctica that may have existed towards the end of the age of dinosaurs," Dr Salisbury said.

"Antarctica holds the key to a lot of biogeographic problems that we're trying to unravel with regard to how dinosaurs and various other creatures ended up around the globe."

Australia and Antarctica were connected around 40 million years ago as parts of the great southern supercontinent, Gondwana.

Dr Salisbury said most dinosaur fossils in Australia were from about 100 million years ago, whereas the ones found in Antarctica were 65-80 million years old.

He hopes any new discoveries can shed light on when Australia may have become a more isolated continent.

With a never-ending cycle of freezing and thawing, different areas are exposed each year, leaving the exciting potential for new discoveries.

"There could be skeletons exposed that weren't seen before, that are just sitting there on the ridges, I hope," Dr Salisbury said.

"It's a dynamic landscape so we will be able to search in new areas and potentially we could find anything."

The international team - which also includes scientists from South Africa, the USA and United Kingdom - will take two helicopters to ensure they can reach areas they want to camp in.

A previous expedition in 2009 was hindered by significant sea ice which cut down the time in camp from five weeks to just two days.