Thursday, July 17, 2008

Laser lights up fragile dinosaur footprints

How do you study numerous thousand dinosaur footprints spread across 2 kilometers of a soft-rock outcrop at a slant of 60 degrees? Zap them with a laser.

The footprints, at the Fumanya site in the southern Pyrenees in Spain, record the passageway of giant long-necked dinosaurs called titanosaurs across a muddy area about 70 million years ago. The trouble is that the footprint layer is soft and crumbling, and climbing the steep surface may perhaps damage the tracks.

Therefore, Phil Manning of the University of Manchester, UK, and his team scanned the surface with LIDAR - a laser method that maps features in a comparable way to radar. The scanner and allied software generated a complete 3D contour map of the surface and prints.

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