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Journey to the Bottom of the World: Academy Researcher to Dig for Fossils in Antarctica

November 21, 2016

    Ted Daeschler, PhD     
Ted Daeschler, PhD

On his latest adventure, Ted Daeschler won’t have to keep an eye out for wolves or polar bears. That’s a welcome change.

“That’ll be very comforting,” he laughed.

For the first time, Daeschler, a PhD who serves as vice president of Collections and the Library of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, will head to Antarctica to seek out fossils dating back to a time before the dinosaurs.

Although he’s gone to the Arctic every other year since 1999, a new multi-year expedition funded by the National Sciences Foundation (NSF) will allow Daeschler to explore potential sites at the other end of the world.

It’s there, in the rocky, dry, desert-like valleys between Antarctic glaciers that Daeschler will continue his work piecing together the path of evolution. Three sites are targeted for the expedition to explore, each containing sedimentary rock dating back to the Devonian Period, a time that ended approximately 120 million years before the first dinosaurs appeared. It was a time when fish were diverse and abundant and fossils from that period (including fossils Daeschler discovered during his time in the Arctic) have provided important clues to how life adapted — and made the transition from the water to land.

For this expedition, Daeschler is again teaming with past collaborator Neil Shubin, of the University of Chicago, who helped find Tiktaalik roseae, a specialized fish that provided clues to life’s evolutionary transition out of the water. Adam Maloof, of Princeton University, and a pair of Australians, John Long, from Flinders University, and Tim Senden, of Australia National University, will also be on the expedition team.

Their research in Antarctica is funded for three years, including two field expeditions. This first trip begins in early December and will extend until mid-January. The second is slated for the winter of 2018–19.

“We’re looking at the distribution of vertebrates there and trying to find centers of evolutionary change,” Daeschler said. “Hopefully we’ll also find organisms new to science.”

Antarctica will be unlike anywhere Daeschler has been, and is unlike most places on this planet.

Read more at the Drexel News Blog