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NOVA: Arctic Dinosaurs

Airs Wednesday, July 27, 2011 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Troodon hunting for hadrosaur. This program aims to explain how dinosaurs managed to survive and even thrive in the gloom of the dark and frigid polar regions. Visual effects and animation: TPD Media; CGI dinosaurs created by Bevan Lynch, Equinox Design and Visual Effects

Tony Fiorillo with 70-million-year-old pachyrhinosaurus skull.
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Above: Tony Fiorillo with 70-million-year-old pachyrhinosaurus skull.

A herd of pachyrhinosauri
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Above: A herd of pachyrhinosauri

Hadrosaurs enduring the cold winter months.
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Above: Hadrosaurs enduring the cold winter months.

Most people imagine dinosaurs lurking in warm locales with swamps and jungles, dining on vegetation and each other. But "Arctic Dinosaurs" reveals that many species also thrived in the harsh environments of the north and south polar regions.

NOVA follows two high-stakes expeditions and the paleontologists who push the limits of science to unearth 70 million-year-old fossils buried in the vast Alaskan tundra.

The hardy scientists shadowed in "Arctic Dinosaurs" persevere because they are driven by a compelling riddle: How did dinosaurs—long believed to be cold-blooded animals—endure the bleak polar environment and navigate in near-total darkness during the long winter months?

Did they migrate over hundreds of miles of rough terrain like modern-day herds of caribou in search of food? Or did they enter a dormant state of hibernation, like bears? Could they have been warm-blooded, like birds and mammals?

Top researchers from Texas, Australia, and the United Kingdom converge on the freezing tundra to unearth some startling new answers.

This program originally aired October 7, 2008.

Video

Preview: NOVA: Arctic Dinosaurs

Above: NOVA takes viewers on an exciting Arctic trek as one team of paleontologists attempts a radical "dig" in northern Alaska, using explosives to bore a 60-foot tunnel into the permafrost in search of fossil bones. Both the scientists and the filmmakers face many challenges while on location, including plummeting temperatures and eroding cliffs prone to sudden collapse. Meanwhile, a second team of scientists works high atop a treacherous cliff to unearth a massive skull, all the while battling time, temperature, and voracious mosquitoes.