Paleontologist uncovering the secrets of the dinosaurs of Aniakchak

Monday, July 23, 2018

Courtesy of Tony Fiorillo. This picture shows Hadrosaurid fossilized footprints taken from the Aniakchak National Park and Preserve.

Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve is one of Alaska’s least-visited parks, according to National Park Service statistics.

But that hasn’t stopped paleontologist Tony Fiorillo from exploring what he says is a prime area to study dinosaur ecology.

In 2001, Dr. Fiorillo found in Aniakchak the first record of a dinosaur in any Alaskan national park.

Since that trip, he has found dinosaur fossils in four Alaska national parks, including Denali National Park and Preserve, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve and Yukon-Charlie Rivers National Preserve.

This summer, Dr. Fiorillo returned to Aniakchak with a team of scientists to better understand the climate and ecosystem during the time of the 70 million year-old fossils that date back to the Late Cretaceous Period.

He says 85 percent of fossilized footprints in the area are from Hadrosaurids, or duck-billed dinosaurs, indicating the Aniakchak area may have been a primary habitat for that species.

But he says there’s plenty more research left to uncover the secrets of the dinosaurs of Aniakchak.

“It’s really going to be a complete story when we’re done,” Dr. Fiorillo said. “And we feel like, because there’s so much information in this one area we’ve been working, this is going to be one of the best stories about dinosaur ecology anywhere in North America, or perhaps the world.”

He went on to say how exceptional it is to find “so much information from a place that’s so remote.”

Dr. Fiorillo says data from this summer’s trip to Aniakchak will be completely compiled by the spring, and he plans to return next summer to continue studying the area.

Dr. Fiorillo is the chief curator and vice president of research and collections at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, where several Alaskan discoveries are on display.