Laser steps in to save footprints

Scientists from The University of Manchester are using laser scanning technology to digitally preserve in three dimensions fading dinosaur tracks unearthed in a Spanish quarry


Experts from The University of Manchester are using laser scanning technology to digitally preserve in three dimensions fading dinosaur tracks unearthed in a Spanish quarry.



The Fumanya site, in the Berguedà region of central Catalonia, is so delicate that experts cannot get physically close enough to the tracks to examine them.



In the years since the tracks were discovered they have been exposed to the elements, and as a result are severely weathered and eroding at a rapid rate. To make things even more difficult, the tracks are imprinted into near-vertical rock faces.



Palaeontologists feared the tracks could be lost forever, but a permanent and detailed record has now been created using cutting-edge equipment.



Using a laser scanning system called RIEGL, researchers from The School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental have produced an interactive 3D model of a quarry face covered in thousands of tracks made by the late Cretaceous dinosaurs, including sauropods and possibly predatory theropod dinosaurs.



The portable system works by rotating and firing laser beams which reflect off the quarry faces back to a receiver. The device then cross-references the reflections with a built-in digital camera and GPS, and feeds the information into an attached laptop. Software is then used to create a detailed and very accurate 3D computer model of the location.



This technology has allowed researchers to closely examine and analyse the Spanish quarry tracks from many different angles and even inside out.



This information gives palaeontologists and dinosaur locomotion experts an insight into the way these dinosaurs moved and the environments in which they lived.



It took four days for a team from the School of Earth, Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences to collect all the necessary information to create a comprehensive 3D model of the quarry, although some initial results were available within just 15 minutes.