Little Catalina fossil mysteries unlocked using a Laser from Manchester Metrology LTD

Thousands of fossils being mapped along the coastline

EGMitchell with Fractofusus

A researcher from the University of Cambridge is on the Bonavista Peninsula to get a better understanding of what’s left of some of the oldest organisms in the history of life on earth.

Palaeontologist Emily Mitchell is using a hand-held laser from Manchester Metrology LTD to map thousands of large, complex fossils — dating from about 560 million years ago — along the coastline in Little Catalina.

“They’re very complicated and they’re very large, they can be up to a metre long and they’re really, really weird-looking,” Mitchell told CBC Radio’s Central Morning Show.

“They don’t look like animals, and they don’t look like plants, and they don’t look like fungi or mushrooms and as a result it’s very hard to work out what they actually were.”

 

Emily Mitchell, as well as other researchers, are mapping fossils along the coastline in Little Catalina.

Emily Mitchell, as well as other researchers, are mapping fossils along the coastline in Little Catalina.

Mitchell said the fossils are “incredibly important.  This is the first time that we see large things that probably are the precursors to animals actually appearing.  It records the fossil surface to very, very small detail, we can get .05 of a millimetre so that’s very, very small.  That detail is important because the fossils are incredibly difficult to photograph.  They’re not very deep into rock so photographs have to wait for the exact perfect light to capture them so it’s quite difficult and that perfect light can only last for half an hour on some surfaces.”  Mitchell shipped 150 kilograms of equipment from the UK in order to record the fossil surface, including a generator and the laser scanner which is mounted on a tripod with a mechanical arm.

Manchester Metrology, leading specialists in the supply of laser tracking solutions supplied the FARO laser used in this project.  It is an extremely accurate, portable coordinate measuring machine that delivers solutions by measuring quickly, simply and precisely.

Fossil

A fractosusus in Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve.

The equipment records the fossils, which are not allowed to be moved, exactly where they are on the rock face.  The laser can also capture the entire surface of the rock, and pick up details researchers wouldn’t necessarily be able to see at the site.

Mitchell’s specialty involves looking at the spatial positions of fossils.  “These creatures didn’t move around, so the place where they are on the rock face encapsulates their entire life history, so how they reproduced, how they interacted with neighbours and local environment,” she said.

The research team moves 60 to 70 kilograms of equipment into the field every morning. (Submitted by Emily Mitchell)

The research team moves 60 to 70 kilograms of equipment into the field every morning. (Submitted by Emily Mitchell)

By combining the scans and statistical analysis, researchers can compare the spatial positions of the fossils on the rock face to modern organisms to work out biological facts, such as how they reproduced.

During the three weeks spent in Newfoundland, Mitchell and her colleagues from Memorial University and the British Geological Survey will have mapped about 4000 fossils.

This fossil scan from Little Catalina contains some Ivesheadiomorphs, fronds and holdfast discs. (Submitted by Emily Mitchell)

This fossil scan from Little Catalina contains some Ivesheadiomorphs, fronds and holdfast discs. (Submitted by Emily Mitchell)

Mitchell said the combination of very large surfaces, unique species, and the oldest complex organisms in the fossil record make the area a “brilliant” place to do research.

Mitchell said she plans to return next year to continue her research in Port Union, where a rare fossil discovery, coined Haootia quadriformis, was made in 2009.

Manchester Metrology LTD is a pioneer and innovator of metrology offering specialist contract measurement services and hiring the latest metrology technology and equipment. It offers metrology support across the UK and worldwide, in the measurement of engineered components for both indoor and outdoor 3D measurements.  Manchester Metrology’s attention to detail and excellent customer support helps to distinguish the company as a benchmark metrology company.

Manchester Metrology offers laser scanner equipment hire; they stock a wide range of calibrated measurement equipment for hire including Faro arms, laser trackers, laser scanners, Faro Focus X330 and the Einscan Pro.

For more information contact us here, or call on 0161 637 8744.