2023-2024 Science Planning Summary
United States Antarctic Program United States Antarctic Program Logo National Science Foundation Logo
Read the latest information from NSF on coronavirus (COVID-19)
2023-2024 USAP Field Season
Project Detail

Project Title

Unearthing Antarctica’s role in the Late Cretaceous evolution of flowering plants

Large upright tree stump. Courtesy of Brian A. Atkinson
G-074-E Research Location(s): James Ross Basin


Event Number:

Program Director:
Dr. Michael Jackson

ASC POC/Implementer:
Kenneth Vicknair / Diane Hutt

Principal Investigator(s)

Dr. Brian Anthony Atkinson
University of Kansas Lawrence
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology


Supporting Stations: Special Project
Research Locations: James Ross Basin


The fossil record indicates that critical events relating to the early diversification of flowering plants occurred during the Cretaceous period (145–66 million years ago). Recent discoveries of fossil flowers and fruits from this time period have significantly furthered our understanding of early flowering plant evolution. However, the majority of these discoveries are from the Northern Hemisphere while similar discoveries from the Southern Hemisphere are relatively lacking. This project will address this paucity of data by collecting and describing Late Cretaceous flowering plant fossils from Western Antarctica and placing them in evolutionary frameworks to better understand early flowering plant evolution, biogeographic history, and Antarctica’s role in the formation of modern ecosystems. Western Antarctica is one of the few places in the Southern Hemisphere that is reported to contain Late Cretaceous-aged (100–66 million years ago) three-dimensionally preserved flowers and fruits. Therefore, the recovery and study of these fossils can meaningfully further our understanding of the early phases of flowering plant evolution. This work will result in the description of new species that will be placed in evolutionary analyses and biogeographic frameworks, which will help clarify the Cretaceous diversification of flowering plants in the Southern Hemisphere. These fossils will provide insights that will allow us to anticipate which plants might thrive in a warming Antarctic and world.

Field Season Overview

The field team will spend up to 30 days camping to collect fossil plants from Cretaceous aged rocks on James Ross Island with potential day trip(s) to Vega Island in the James Ross Basin (JRB). The science team will consist of eight participants including a project mountaineer. The team will also be supported by an ASC camp manager. USAP will provide travel, Physical Qualifications, cargo, and field camp support. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) operated RRS (Royal Research Ship) Sir David Attenborough (SDA) will transport the team to each island field site by small boat. The team will establish a field camp relatively close to shore on James Ross Island; if time allows, the team will attempt day trips to Vega Island via landing craft. The science team will hike to fossil localities and recover fossils via surficial collecting using standard paleontological equipment (e.g., geologic hammers, sledgehammers, and pickaxes). The team will use GPS coordinates of known key fossil localities to locate important specimens. If time allows, the team will scout for new localities. After collecting fossils, the team will carry them back to camp and ship them north for further analysis.

Deploying Team Members

  • Brian Atkinson (PI)
  • Ari Iglesias
  • Mónica Ramirez Carvalho
  • Eric Roberts
  • Michael Roberts
  • Rudolph Serbet
  • Selena Smith (Co-PI)
  • Marina Suarez