Droning for Dinosaurs


Scientists are going high-tech to survey thousands of fossilized tracks in remote Western Australia. (BBC)

Use our resources to dig deeper into the world of dinosaurs.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources, including today’s dino-riffic MapMaker Interactive map.

Discussion Ideas



  • There are two main types of fossils: body fossils and trace fossils. What type of fossils are the paleontologists in Australia looking for? (Keep in mind that paleontologists are always happy with either one!) Use our encyclopedic entry for some help.
    • Footprints are a type of trace fossil. Trace fossils are rocks that have preserved evidence of biological activity—a footprint, the imprint of a leaf, bite marks. They are not fossilized remains, just the traces of organisms.
      • Body fossils are preserved evidence (rocks) of what was once the body of an ancient organism, such as bones, teeth, or shells.


  • In addition to drones, paleontologists are using LiDAR to look for trace fossils. What is LiDAR?
    • LiDAR stands for LIght Detection And Ranging. It is a method of detecting distant objects and determining their position, velocity, volume, or other characteristic by analysis of pulsed laser light reflected from their surfaces.
    • According to the BBC, the LiDAR instrument used in Western Australia “uses pulsating laser light coupled with a global positioning system. It records the points where the laser light reflects off hard surfaces, combining data from multiple passes to generate a detailed 3D map of the coastline.”



  • Dinosaurs are some of the biggest animals to ever have walked the Earth. Wouldn’t that make their fossils easy to find? Why do scientists need drones to find evidence of them? Take a look at the map layers in the third bookmark of today’s MapMaker Interactive map for some help.
    • Fossils are (usually) not so easy to find! Fossil hunting is a skill. Here are some additional reasons drones can help a paleontological survey:
      • Footprints are rare: Environmental conditions need to be perfect for loose sand to harden to sandstone and preserve a footprint for millions of years, with no significant erosion due to wind or water.
      • Identification is difficult: Some dinosaur footprints don’t look like footprints at first glance. Giant sauropods, for instance, left circular prints that can blend in with natural weathering and erosion patterns. Here is a sauropod print, and here is a photo of Australian paleontologists using silicon rubber to make a cast of a sauropod print.
      • The landscape is forbidding: Some of the footprint fossils are found along jagged cliffs, crumbling rocky reefs, and underwater in intertidal zones. According to the BBC, “Many are only exposed for a few hours each day, and only a few days each year, meaning the team has to work quickly.”
      • It’s a remote area: The Kimberley region, the most northwestern part of Australia, is among the most sparsely populated areas on the continent.


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BBC: Mapping Australia’s dinosaur landscape

Nat Geo: Collection of Dinosaur Resources

Nat Geo: Dinosaurs of Western Australia map

ABC: Kimberley Dinosaurs video

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