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Fort Lauderdale Dinosaur Exhibition Teaches Children About Climate Change

Luis Hernandez
One of the animatronic dinosaurs included in the exhibition 'Expedition: Dinosaurs' at the Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale.

A new exhibition at the Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale explores the history and science of dinosaurs.

Through animatronic dinosaur displays and examples of the latest technology used by paleontologists in the field, children are exposed to the science and profession of those continuing to study creatures from the Mesozoic era.

Joe Cox, president and CEO of the Museum of Discovery and Science, has been fascinated with dinosaurs since he was a child growing up in Dorset, England. “Mary Anning was this incredible scientist, she invented the field of paleontology in a lot of ways. And she was from right down the street where I grew up.”

Cox went on to study paleobiogeography in college and work at the Ecotarium Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts before moving to Fort Lauderdale.

There were never dinosaurs in Florida because the state was underwater at that time, Cox said, but you can see the state’s long history of ancient plant species in the museum’s permanent fossil collection. He’s hoping the "Expedition: Dinosaur" exhibition will inspire children to be interested in a career of science and better understand the threat of climate change facing our region.

We spoke with Cox at the Museum of Discovery and Science when the exhibition opened in January. It will be on display until May 25.         

This excerpt has been edited lightly for clarity.  

WLRN: The issue of climate change. It's a natural process. How are you going to bring the issue up in, you know, when you're talking about dinosaurs and the different dinosaur eras?

Cox: Climate change and resiliency are so key to us here in South Florida and being able to use fossils to study climate is critical. You know, weather is what happens outside every day. Climate is what happens over long periods of time, decades, millennia, eons. And so we can look at this and we can study. You can go back millions of years and look at core samples that have been taken in Greenland that show you carbon dioxide levels vs. heat temperatures around the world and see the correlation. And where does that become different? That becomes different when human CO2 levels started to just explode. And so using data, using research we can really start understanding the facts. So the exhibit doesn't get into the why or how or if of climate change. But it's really about giving kids the skills to understand that they should do that research.

Credit Luis Hernandez / WLRN
Joe Cox is the CEO of the Museum of Discovery and Science.

And that's the other thing. This is a very complex issue. So how do you present it for children? So it's digestible and interesting. It's gotta be fun.

It is. And I think it all has to start with earth science. You know, earth science and the understanding of geology of our planet and of our world. It's really hard to understand climate change if you don't understand how the world works. And so that's where we start with really elementary earth science conversations. 

So also a part of the exhibit is to open up the possibility for kids to be interested in different sciences, paleontology, etc. Do you get the sense kids today are still interested in this?

I mean, I think if you look at attendance numbers of museums where they have dinosaur exhibits or special dinosaur exhibits, the Smithsonian just opened a spectacular new dinosaur exhibit. Museum store sales, dinosaurs are always really popular. My 4½-year-old niece and nephew loved their dinosaurs. I think it's just one of those things that it's so awe inspiring and so magnificent and so exciting.

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Chris knew he wanted to work in public radio beginning in middle school, as WHYY played in his car rides to and from school in New Jersey. He’s freelanced for All Things Considered and was a desk associate for CBS Radio News in New York City. Most recently, he was producing for Capital Public Radio’s Insight booking guests, conducting research and leading special projects at Sacramento’s NPR affiliate.