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The Dinosaur Cold Case By Marc Astick

Here at Real Science, we are powered by curiosity and we love a pint. The Pint of Science Festival was made for us! Over the past week, we sent some of our intrepid science explorers to investigate some of the fascinating topics that were on offer. We came, we saw, we took notes.

Possibly the least health-related event we attended. But certainly a very interesting night for a dinosaur enthusiast. The evening covered some broad topics, from the extinction of the dinosaurs to the extinction of the dinosaurs and then the extinction of the dinosaurs. Which was perfect for me, as that is what we really want to know, right?
Professor Paul Upchurch, a Paleo-biologist from UCL, explained the various potential theories surrounding the sudden loss of up to 75% of the earths’ species (including almost all dinosaurs- honourable mention to birds). Theories range from intelligent dinosaurs wiping themselves out, to alien abduction, but it is now widely accepted that a giant asteroid has a lot to answer for. Professor Upchurch added an interesting twist to this, explaining the pulse-press model for extinction, a combination of a sudden, dramatic event, followed by a more gradual squeeze on an already stressed ecosystem. In this case, an asteroid (the pulse) caused a huge amount of damage to the planet, wiping out species immediately and ploughing debris in to the atmosphere to shut down photosynthesis, then came an increase in global volcanic activity (the press), which gradually suffocated those remaining species over a longer period of time. So all in all a difficult state of affairs for the dinosaurs.
The two remaining talks, given by Dr Alfio Alessandra Chiarenza and Omar Regalado Fernandez (a PhD candidate) both from UCL, looked at the use of machine learning and big data to analyse two important topics, climate modelling of the distant past and profiling of dinosaur families. A couple of really interesting take home messages were that we are now able to look at climate patterns from millions of years ago, and how they might have impacted species. In addition, with the help of machine learning we can essentially build dinosaur family trees without DNA, by looking at changes in bone structure and using these data to elaborate the evolution of dinosaur families.
A few interesting talks from some engaging scientists. We had a great time, and now we know what happened to the dinosaurs.