The University of Texas at Austin's Texas Natural Science Center aims to move a set of unique fossilized dinosaur tracks into new exhibit space in the Texas Memorial Museum, saving them from degradation.
The Glen Rose Dinosaur Tracks were made 112 million years ago by two dinosaurs, a sauropod and theropod, walking through coastal mud that is now exposed rock along the Paluxy River in Glen Rose, Texas.
Unfortunately, the building constructed on campus to house the tracks in the 1940s is not well suited for their preservation. Severe moisture fluctuations and related problems are leading to deterioration of the stone.
Nor does the building provide for the best educational opportunities for people visiting the tracks, says Ed Theriot, director of the science center.
"These tracks are a world famous part of Texas' natural history," says Theriot. "They are scientifically significant, but also an important tool for science education. Future scientists, teachers, historians and enthusiasts will all benefit from, and be inspired by, these tracks."
The tracks are unique because they capture a bit of extinct dinosaur behavior.
"Measurements taken from the trackways allow us to estimate sizes, hip heights and gaits of the track makers," says Pamela Owen, paleontologist at the science center. "We'll never know the details, and the evidence is open to interpretation, but it does appear that the theropod was closely following the sauropod. Perhaps the theropod was even stalking the sauropod."
Scientists know from the tracks that the sauropod was probably about 60 feet long, weighed about 20 tons and had a hind leg stride of 10 feet. The theropod was about 30 feet in length and walked on its hind legs with a stride of about nine feet.
The sauropod tracks are the standard to which other similar tracks are scientifically compared.
The estimated cost of moving the tracks, reassembling them and developing an appropriate educational exhibit for them is $1 million. The Texas Natural Science Center has embarked on a "Save the Dinosaur Tracks" fundraising campaign.
To learn more about the campaign, the trackways and the dinosaurs that made them, visit savethedinosaurtracks.org.
Visitors can see the tracks for free anytime day or night next to the Texas Memorial Museum.
Owen will be talking about the dinosaurs and tracks as part of the museum's Darwin Day event on Feb. 13, which is free and open to the public. Visit the event Web site.