Scientists have discovered the first known remains of an Antarctic sauropod

Antarctica's frigid climate can make hunting for fossils incredibly difficult. So difficult, in fact, that until 1986, no one had recovered so much as a single dinosaur specimen from the continent's icy grip.

Since then, paleontological discoveries in the southernmost continent have been relatively few and far between — but yesterday, a team of South American paleontologists announced one of the biggest Antarctic discoveries in years: the fossilized remains of a sauropod.

The discovery comes in the form of a single broken vertebra, which is enough for paleontologists to say it came from a sauropod, but evidently not enough for them to say whether or not it came from, say, a brachiosaurus.

"We cannot do much with only a vertebra, so we don't know the genera or species," said study researcher Ariana Paulina Carabajal. "But we know it's a titanosaur, it's a kind of sauropod that's very common in South America."

Paulina Carabajal announced her team's discovery yesterday at the annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology.

The team's find is also significant for bringing the total number of continents that have been home to a sauropod discovery to seven. And to hear Paulina Carabajal tell it, the discovery of a sauropod in Antarctica makes pretty decent sense. According to her, nobody is sure how sauropods managed to spread to every continent on Earth, but the discovery of a sauropod fossil in Antarctica could help substantiate the hypothesis that the massive herbivores once used Antarctica as a bridge between South America and Australia; remember: the distribution of the planet's land mass 100 million years ago (when sauropods are thought to have lived) would have looked much different than it does today, with Antarctica occupying more northern (and therefore traversable, if not habitable) latitudes.

Via Live Science