British scientists are about to take over one of their biggest dinosaur hunts in decades. "of Wyoming.
The US state has yielded some of the most famous specimens ever found, and the international group will excavate one square mile (260ha) of ground.
" It's an incredible site, mind-blowing, " said Prof Phil Manning.
"In the UK, we rarely see anything like this – whole dinosaurs coming out of the ground. But that's what we've got here," the University of Manchester palaeontologist told BBC News.
"And the funding we have in place permits us to open up pitch pitch-sized areas at a time, if need be."
the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in Leiden, Netherlands; and London's Natural History Museum
Prof Manning and Manchester colleague Dr Victoria Egerton are Extraordinary Scientists at the Residence at the Children's Museum and will act as lead researchers, but such is the scale of this endeavor that a team of more than 100 experts will be required.
The project has been dubbed "Mission Jurassic" – a reference to the major geological period in which the rocks to be studied were laid down.
In this particular part of North Wyoming, the scientists will get access to a unit, or formation known as the Morrison.
"These were deposited from about 157 million to 145 million years ago," explained the NHM's Dr Susannah Maidment
"The formation has been extensively studied to the south, producing all of your favorite dinosaurs that you named when you were seven – the likes of Stegosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Brontosaurus and Allosaurus. But we'll be in the
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Already, there have been some exploratory investigations in the area.
This early work, carried out by Prof Manning and colleagues, has heightened the anticipation.
Several tonnes of bones were recovered, including fossils from two giant sauropod dinosaurs – a 24m-long Brachiosaurus and a 30m-long Diplodocus
"We've got chicken-sized theropods as well," said Prof Manning, of the familiar bipedal dinosaurs out of which modern birds are descended. "I'm hoping if we can find more of this material, we might learn something about the evolution of flight."
The dig team will work through a range of ancient environments, including a river and floodplain setting; and another that appears to record a marine history.
"So, this is not just about dinosaurs," said the NHM's Prof Paul Barrett. "Obviously, they're the charismatic creatures, but we're also interested in everything that's living alongside the dinosaurs, to build up a complete picture of that ecosystem. Things like ancient crocodiles, lizards, turtles, fish, clams, plants –
Prof. Barrett said Mission Jurassic was the largest expedition of its type for the NHM since a venture in Niger in the 1980s.
The institution – as the UK's premier fossil display center – many of the specimens are discovered that can be brought to London. Although the NHM has an extraordinary collection of fossils, it concedes that its North American compilation could be stronger
One excellent opportunity the project will afford is educational – both for UK PhD students, who will be able to work in the field; but also for the public. There are plans to livestream events around the world so that people can get a first-hand insight of what is like to discover fossils that are totally new to science.
Anyone wishing to follow the project should keep an eye on the Dinosaur Hub on the Natural History Museum's website.