SYDNEY — A team of Australian paleontologists and volunteers has saved a once-in a lifetime fossil discovery from devastating floods in Queensland state.
The dinosaur tracks give a rare insight into an ancient world. Found on an outback farm near the Queensland town of Winton, 1,100 kms from Brisbane, they are estimated to be almost 100 million years old.
The footprints are stamped into a large slab of sandstone rock, and were made by a sauropod, a giant creature with a long neck and tail, and by two smaller dinosaurs. Some of the footprints are up to a meter wide and come from the Cretaceous period.
Scientists were alerted to the danger posed to this remarkable collection when it was partly damaged by severe flooding last year.
For three weeks scientists and volunteers worked to carefully dig up and relocate the dinosaur tracks.
They are being stored at the Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum in Winton, where they will eventually go on display.
David Elliott is the museum’s executive chairman.
“We really want to preserve the integrity of the tracks. We do not want to just tear them up and go and lock them on the ground somewhere. You know, they have to be done a certain way. We cannot just leave it here because that is, you know, [a] find of a lifetime.”
Dinosaur tracks are rare in Australia.
Steve Poropat, a paleontologist at Swinburne University in Melbourne says the footprints were saved from recent monsoonal flooding in Queensland.
“The imperative was to get those soft footprints out of the ground because they just would not have lasted in another flood now that they have been fully exposed. To get it all out of the ground, to make sure that it is safe from future floods is fantastic,” he said.
Monsoonal rains in Queensland have caused chaos, flooding hundreds of homes and drowning several hundred thousand livestock. Officials said it was a one-in-100-year event, and they have warned it could take years to rebuild the local cattle industry.
As the floodwaters recede on land, they are polluting parts of the Great Barrier Reef. Experts say plumes of polluted water are stretching up to 60 kms from the coast, putting more pressure on coral that has suffered mass bleaching in recent years. When ocean temperatures increase, corals can expel the algae that live in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white.
The Great Barrier Reef is Australia’s greatest natural treasure and stretches 2,300 kms down Australia’s northeast coastline.