Paper No. 113-6
Presentation Time: 3:00 PM
CHASING THEROPODS ACROSS AN EARLY JURASSIC SAND SEA: “PALEOCAMP” OPPORTUNITIES FOR YOUNG CITIZEN SCIENTISTS TO HELP DISCOVER, DOCUMENT, INTERPRET, MANAGE, AND PRESERVE AN ANCIENT TRACKSITE IN THE NAVAJO SANDSTONE OF SOUTHEASTERN UTAH
Utah contains a myriad of unique paleontological resources. Newly discovered dinosaur footprints add to an already impressive array of known ichnological sites. Discovered in 2015, the Mail Station Dinosaur Tracksite (MSDT) has been managed primarily for educational and research purposes by the Bureau of Land Management. The MSDT is one of largest, best-preserved, Lower Jurassic, dinosaur tracksites in the West. Numerous tracks and trackways (Eubrontes) of large theropods at this Navajo Sandstone locality provide an excellent outdoor classroom for teaching scientific methods, resource management, and site stewardship. Over the course of three years, middle-school students were involved in STEM-based “Paleocamps,” allowing them to become active researchers. These citizen scientists are provided instruction and tracking kits, so they can engage in actual dinosaur footprint discovery, documentation, and interpretation. Students learn traditional ichnological measuring and mapping techniques, as well as state-of-the-art photogrammetry. Because the MSDT occurs in an active arroyo, the tracks are seasonally buried by sediments, creating a different experience for each year’s students to do both paleoichnological and neoichnological studies. While uncovering footprints, students use their observational skills and collect data to make calculations and interpretations about the trackmakers, as well as discuss site management. This information has been incorporated with the scientific data of researchers to understand the site’s significance. Currently, approximately 100 tracks and 24 trackways have been documented. Trackways with highly variable orientations indicate multiple track-making events by numerous theropods crossing a small playa in the Early Jurassic. At least 4 trackways represent animals running at speeds of up of ~49 km/hour, the fastest speed known for any Jurassic theropod. Unique opportunities, such as this "Paleocamp," allow for increased scientific literacy and a better understanding of the importance of paleontological resources as parts of America's Natural Heritage. Hopefully, this new generation of citizen scientist will be more aware of the significance of the resources in the West and will make additional discoveries to benefit science and the American public.