German/Moroccan paleontologist, anatomist, and National Geographic Explorer Nizar Ibrahim scours the vast deserts of North Africa for clues to life in the Cretaceous period, when the area was a large river system teeming with a profusion of diverse life. One of the youngest explorers ever to lead expeditions to the Sahara, he has unearthed spectacular dinosaur bones, rare fossil footprints, giant prehistoric fish, crocodile-like hunters, and a new species of giant flying reptile with a 20-foot wingspan that lived 95 million years ago.
For many years Ibrahim has been obsessed with one of the great mysteries in paleontology—the giant predatory dinosaur, Spinosaurus. In a tale for the ages, Ibrahim managed to find “a needle in a desert,” as he puts it, uncovering one of the most bizarre animals ever to evolve. Ibrahim’s remarkable story and the findings of an international team of scientists were published in the journal Science and as a cover story for National Geographic magazine. What has been unveiled appears to be the first truly semiaquatic dinosaur, Spinosaurus aegyptiacus. New fossils of this massive sail-backed, crocodile-snouted predator reveal it adapted to life in the water, providing the most compelling evidence to date of a dinosaur able to live and hunt in an aquatic environment. The fossils also indicate that Spinosaurus was the largest known predatory dinosaur to roam the Earth, measuring more than nine feet longer than the world’s largest Tyrannosaurus rex specimen. According to Ibrahim, “Working on this animal was like studying an alien from outer space; it’s unlike any other dinosaur I have ever seen.”
In 2014 Ibrahim was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, and in 2015 he was named a TED fellow, the first paleontologist in the history of TED. Also in 2015, he was named one of Chicago’s 40 under 40 by Crain’s Chicago Business. Ibrahim is an Assistant Professor of Biology and currently teaches anatomy and evolutionary biology at the University of Detroit Mercy. In addition, he is a Research Associate with Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History, and a Visiting Researcher with the University of Portsmouth in England. Ibrahim’s work has been featured in several major documentary films (National Geographic, NOVA, BBC, ZDF) and high-impact publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Nature, Discover Magazine, and The New York Times.
Ibrahim has widely published in the fields of paleontology, anatomy, geology, and bioinformatics. His upcoming paper describing the ecosystem of what is now Morocco’s Sahara Desert in the mid-Cretaceous period promises to be a milestone, providing the most detailed account of the diversity, paleoecology, and geologic context of fossil vertebrates from North Africa.
It was the largest predatory dinosaur, with spike-shaped teeth and a body over 50 feet long. “It” wasSpinosaurus, and although it was a giant among dinosaurs, its fossils eluded scientists for decades. Almost as amazing as Spinosaurus itself is the story of how this monster was rediscovered a century after its bones were first unearthed and later bombed into oblivion in the chaos of WWII.