(Image: Gudrun Becker, Pixabay)

Champsosaurs of Axel Heiberg Island

Some people have claimed that Champsosaur remains and fossil forests found in the Canadian Arctic are evidence of Earth Crustal or Pole Shift. They argue that the semitropical fossil animals and plants found on Axel Heiberg Island could never have existed in the arctic cold that characterizes the modern Arctic Circle. They would argue that such fossils had to have been shifted by Earth crustal displacement from low latitudes into the Arctic Circle. However, these people overlook the fact that 95 million years ago, the Earth was much warmer than is now. Since then, the cooling of the Earth has forced both trees and animals to move permanently southward.

The research from Friday’s Guardian discussed below was eventually published as:

Tarduno, J. A., D. B. Brinkman, P. R. Renne, R. D.
Cottrell, H. Scher, and P. Castillo, 1998, Evidence for
extreme climatic warmth from late Cretaceous Arctic
. Science. vol. 282, no. 5397, pp. 2241-2244.

Re: Reptile Fossil Remains in the Arctic
Author: Heinrich
Date: 1998/12/20
Forum: sci.archaeology
Message-ID: NNTP-Posting-Date: Sun, 20 Dec 1998 19:56:00 CST
Newsgroups: sci.archaeology,alt.archaeology
Organization: Intersurf Online, Inc.
References: <367CE9D2.A62A100E@tschan-partner.com>

In article <367CE9D2.A62A100E@tschan-partner.com>, David Grayshan wrote:

Having been away on assignment, you have not heard from me recently. Weren’t you lucky? Well, now your peace is over. Friday’s Guardian reports the find of a reptile skeleton in the Arctic. They seem pretty sure that it must have been a hot climate there, relatively recently (the newspaper article does not provide dates).

1). Anyone with more info than the article provides?

I have read bits and pieces, but can’t seem to find a citation about this fossil at this time. From what little that I have found, the best that I can infer is that the article is referring to a Champsosaur very similar to a femur found on Axel Heiberg Island in the High Canadian Arctic. A brief on-line reference to this Champsosaur can be found here.

Champsosaurs were large, up to 15 feet long, crocodile- like reptiles.

More unrelated links on Champsosaurus:


Bones of crocodile-like creature confirm that Arctic was once a hot spot

2). Anyone got any theories?

…. unnecessary theories about volcanic activity omitted …

No, the whole region must have been warm, not just the bit around the location where it was found.

I will agree with that.

That is, the macroclimate must have been warm. And this long after the supposed break-up of Pangea in current theory, methinks.

The presence of Champsosaurs is not that surprising given that the above mentioned Champsosaur was found strata that is about 95 million years old. The Mid-Cretaceous was very likely one of the warmest periods of time in the last 600 million years of Earth history, e.g. Spicer (1992), Ziegler et al. (1985), and many, many other citations.

Both Marincovich et al. (1990) and Thiede et al. (1990) summarize data that show that the Arctic Ocean was “remarkably warm and equable” during the Cretaceous and early Tertiary. The terrestrial climates were likely mild temperate or warmer and lacked any prolonged spells of freezing weather as indicated by dinosaur faunas, fossil pollen, and fossil leaves.

During the Tertiary, the climate gradually cooled until ice cover formed about 20 million years after Antarctica was first glaciated. At the South Pole, the Mid-Cretaceous climate was so warm that Antarctica was completely ice-free. During this time, the Antarctic Peninsula was covered with a “warm – cool temperate, high rainfall forest.” The oceans the covered the area that later became James Ross Island have been estimated to have temperatures of about 15 to 20 degrees Celsius using stable isotopes from marine fossils (Dingle and Lavelle 1998, Ditchfield et al. 1994).

One hesitates to mention the heretical idea that the Arctic might not always have been located where it is now in relatively recent times.

There are a number of models, supported by paleomagnetic data, explaining how the Arctic Ocean developed. However all them show the Canadian High Arctic has for the last 150 millions moved within the Arctic Circle. These are summarized in Lawver and Scotese (1990).

3). I always understood that the Arctic was just ice, no land + underneath. Yet the fossil is found in mud, meaning there + must be solid land under – or am I being naive?

There is an archipelago of islands, called the “High Canadian Arctic,” which lie within the Arctic Circle. It on these that Champsosaurs are found. The rest is the Arctic Ocean. For some pictures of these islands, go to:

Arctic Expedition 96

Ph.D. project

References Cited:

Dingle, R. V., and Lavelle, M., 1998, Late Cretaceous – Cenozoic climatic variations of the northern Antarctic Peninsula: new geochemical evidence and review. Palaeogeograpy, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. vol. 141, nos. 3-4, pp. 215-232.

Ditchfield, P. W., Marshall, J. D., and Pirrie, D., 1994, High latitude palaeotemperature variation: new data from the Tithonian to Eocene of James Ross Island, Antarctica. Palaeogeograpy, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology. vol. 107, nos. 1-2, pp. 79-101.

Lawver, L. A., and Scotese, C. R., 1990, A review of tectonic models for the evolution of the Canadian Basin. In A. Grantz, L. Johnson, and J. F. Sweeny, eds., pp. 593- 617, The Arctic Ocean Region. The Geology of North America, vol. L, Geological Society of America, Boulder, Colorado.

Marincovich, L., Jr., Brouwers, E. M., Hopkins, D. M., and McKenna, M. C., 1990, Late Mesozoic and Cenozoic paleogeographic and paleoclimatic history of the Arctic Ocean Basin, based upon shallow-water marine faunas and terrestrial vertebrates. In A. Grantz, L. Johnson, and J. F. Sweeny, eds., pp. 403-426, The Arctic Ocean Region. The Geology of North America, vol. L, Geological Society of America, Boulder, Colorado.

Spicer, R. A., 1992, A Review of Terrestrial and Marine Climates in the Cretaceous with Implications for Modeling the `Greenhouse Earth. Geological Magazine, vol. 129, no. 2, pp. 169-180.

Thiede, J., Clark, D. L., and Herman, Y., 1990, Late Mesozoic and Cenozoic paleoceanography of the northern polar oceans. In A. Grantz, L. Johnson, and J. F. Sweeny, eds., pp. 427- 458, The Arctic Ocean Region. The Geology of North America, vol. L, Geological Society of America, Boulder, Colorado.

Ziegler, A.M., D. B. Rowley, A. L. Lottes, D. L. Sahagian, M. L. Hulver, and T. C. Gierlowski, 1985. Paleogeographic interpretation: with an example from the Mid-Cretaceous. Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences. vol. 13, pp. 385-425.

Paul (Heinrich), any comment?

Merry Christmas everybody.


Paul V. Heinrich
graywacke@att.net and Baton Rouge, LA

All comments are the personal opinion of the writer and do not constitute policy and/or opinion of government or corporate entities. This includes my employer.

To persons uninstructed in natural history, their country or seaside stroll is a walk through a gallery filled with wonderful works of art, nine-tenths of which have their faces turned to the wall. (T. H. Huxley [1854]).

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Dec 14, 2001 Copyright © 1996-2002 Paul V. Heinrich All rights reserved.