Paleontologists now have a new tool to perform 3-D interpretations of complex sets of dinosaur trackways: light detection and ranging (lidar). Recognizing that 2-D, manual techniques for reconstructing dinosaur tracks are severely inadequate, researchers at the University of Manchester (Manchester, England) used a portable Riegl (Orlando, FL) LMS-Z420i terrestrial laser scanner (capable of acquiring 12,000 x, y, z, and intensity points per second and powered using a car battery) to obtain information from an outcrop of rocks that contain as many as 3000 dinosaur tracks and 40 recognizable trackways.
Combining the high-resolution (0.008 to 0.02 m spacing) lidar data with surface-modeling software that provides data on the individual characteristics of a dinosaur track such as anterior, posterior, and lateral extensions of the foot, as well as the maximum zone of deformation in a particular type of earth, the researchers were able to identify the individual quadripedal trackways and determine track-maker foot morphology and limb kinematics as a function of substrate and weathering of the earth surrounding the tracks. The visualization capability of 3-D lidar enables quantitative measurements of fossil tracks that can incorporate statistical methods and mathematical models for improved mapping of fossil trackways. Contact Karl T. Bates at [email protected]. (Image Courtesy of The Palaeontological Association)