Lest we forget the fossil in fossil fuel, scientists have announced a new discovery: The oldest and most complete plesiosaur fossil, dragged out of the Alberta oil sands.
Dug up 14 years ago, the Cretaceous Period fossil was only just formally described in the German journal Palaeontographica Abteilung A.
It's a rare bit of good press out of the Alberta oil sands, an unconventional source of oil that has a massive burden of pollution. It has been called the most destructive project on Earth.Here are the new dinosaur's vital statistics:
Name: Nichollsia borealis, named for renowned paleontologist Elizabeth (Betsy) Nicholls, who is credited with transforming the understanding of prehistoric ocean life by describing the largest-ever marine reptile, a 75-foot-long ichthyosaur, discovered in northern British Columbia in 1999.
Size: 8.5 feet long
Age: 112 million years, during the Cretaceous Period, when dinosaurs ruled the land, pterosaurs ruled the skies, the first flowering plants emerged, and the most diverse life forms on Earth, the insects, began to diversify into bees, ants, butterflies and other forms recognized today.
Life History: A predator, Nichollsia borealis lived in a sea, known as the Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway, which once split the North American continent in two, and which was filled with a diverse array of marine reptiles.
Discovery: Machine operators Greg Fisher and Lorne Cundal unearthed the fossil in 1994 while using a 100-ton electric shovel in a sandstone deposit 200 feet underground at Syncrudes Base Mine, about 22 miles north of Fort McMurray near the Athabasca River, in Canada's Alberta Province. One University of Calgary scientist called it "paleontology at an industrial scale."
Significance: Complete except for its left forelimb and shoulder blade, the fossil is one of the best preserved North American plesiosaurs from the Cretaceous Period, and fills a 40-million-year gap in that beast's fossil record.
Where to See It: The Discoveries Gallery at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, in Drumheller, Alberta Province, Canada.
Nichollsia borealis, a new Cretaceous plesiosaur discovered in the Alberta oil sands.
Royal Tyrrell Museum
Elizabeth "Betsy" Nicholls, for whom a new plesiosaur is named.
Rolex Awards/Tomas Bertelsen
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