Every August, Dr. Jørn Hurum leads an expedition of experts to the remote Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. Through their excavations, the paleontologists travel back into the Jurassic Period, where they find the fossils of countless, terrifying marine reptiles – many of them new species. While conducting fieldwork, they brave weather, polar bears and isolation, and each trip yields incredible discoveries – as well as troubling questions. They find enormous predators in a small area, but few signs of the beasts’ prey. During two expeditions supported by National Geographic, they uncover startling evidence that could forever change our view of the Jurassic.
As the excavations continue, Svalbard, which was a dark, muddy, sea-bottom in the past, reveals itself to be a natural crypt for marine reptile fossils. Although the specimens are new to science, many of them are members of well-known Jurassic sea monster groups. Remains of dolphin-shaped ichthyosaurs and long necked plesiosaurs are littered in the mountainside along with the discovery of the largest predatory Jurassic marine reptile known to man, a 50-feet pliosaur, with cucumber-sized teeth. Disturbingly, many common types of Jurassic species are not being found at all, including what should have been most of these monsters’ meals.
Ancient marine crocodiles, sea turtles, fish and reef fauna are typical of warm Jurassic seas, but have left virtually no traces here. This noticeable gap in the food chain puzzles the scientists, who seek to describe this unique ecosystem. Astoundingly, the team discovers an unexpected treasure that may ultimately help solve the mystery… the first ever, intact, Jurassic ichthyosaur from the Arctic.
Complete specimens can bestow information that bone fragments cannot. It is possible that the analysis of this beast will be able to provide clues on how it lived and how it died and may even help figure out why some important species seem to be missing. The analysis can only be done in Jørn’s laboratory in Oslo, and the rest of the dig becomes a race against the weather.
As the team rushes to free the beast from the temporarily thawed permafrost, a few other last-minute discoveries are made. Unusual pebbles seem to be climate indicators, signs of seeps that spewed methane into the sea, and evidence of a massive ancient cephalopod population may help shed some light on why there is a lack of fish fossils here, as well as the uniqueness of this ecosystem.
After being meticulously cleaned back in the Oslo lab, the rare ichthyosaur that the team unearthed is able to offer clues to the scientists about its story. Distinctive damage to the ichthyosaur’s rear could point to a brutal attack by another enormous marine predator, and scientific analysis of what may have been its last meal suggests that these sea monsters dominated a unique Jurassic ecosystem that continues to puzzle the experts.