Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Paleontologists Use Computer to "Morph" Deformed Fossils Back to Their Original Shapes

07.04.2004


It’s bad enough that fossils, buried deep in layers of rock for thousands or millions of years, may be damaged or missing pieces, but what really challenges paleontologists, according to University at Buffalo researchers, is the amount of deformation that most fossils exhibit.



That’s why Tammy Dunlavey, a master’s degree candidate in the Department of Geology in the UB College of Arts and Sciences, and her colleagues are working on a computational method to morph fossils back to their original shapes by calculating and excising the deformation.

"Our goal is to develop computer programs that can reliably solve the deformation problem," noted Dunlavey, who on April 1 presented research on a new suite of "retrodeformation" programs at a Geological Society of America meeting (North-Central section) in St. Louis.


The main program is called "MsWellman," written by the UB researchers in collaboration with H. David Sheets, Ph.D., professor of physics at Canisius College and adjunct associate professor of geology at UB.

MsWellman adapts an approach developed by a structural geologist named Wellman, and works on multiple rock slabs at once.

"Fossils are deformed because they are fossils," said Dunlavey.

Deformation makes the prospect of gleaning from fossils important data about ancient worlds that much more difficult, according to Charles E. Mitchell, Ph.D., professor and chair of the UB geology department, with whom Dunlavey is collaborating.

While paleontologists traditionally have tried to concentrate on the rare, well-preserved fossils for which deformation is not a significant issue, they increasingly are interested in the many fossils that clearly have been deformed.

"The question our computer program is designed to address isn’t, ’Are fossils deformed,’ but rather ’By how much?’" said Dunlavey, noting that millions of years of being buried causes different levels of deformation in fossils.

According to the UB researchers, MsWellman calculates the degree and form of the deformation and then a second program the UB team developed called Retrodef6, uses this understanding to "correct" a representation of the deformed fossil back to its original form.

"We wanted to design a methodology that determines at what point, statistically, fossils can be considered deformed and calculates the amount of deformation based on how much strain they were subject to when embedded in rock, as well as other variables," she said. "The program then will restore the virtual fossils to their original shape."

To do that, the UB scientists employed a technique called geometric morphometrics, which documents aspects of shape and size in a specimen based on landmarks, discrete anatomical points that generally are uniform for related specimens.

For example, Dunlavey explained, one might consider the eyes in a human face as a landmark feature, and, since human faces are expected to be bilaterally symmetric, the right eye is expected to be located on the opposite side of the face at the same height as the left one.

In the same way, she said, many fossils are expected to be bilaterally symmetric in their original form, a concept that is a key premise of the UB computer programs.

To gauge the reliability of the new retrodeformation programs, Dunlavey used several fossils of graptolites, which are the remains of an extinct group of marine organisms.

The fossils Dunlavey used lived during the Middle Ordovician Period, some 472 million years ago, before land animals or large land plants had evolved.

Since graptolites were common and evolved rapidly, Mitchell explained, they tend to be useful markers for constructing a timescale in the Ordovician period.

Because their original shape is well-known, he continued, several sets of deformed, slightly deformed and non-deformed graptolites served as an excellent test case for the new computer programs.

So far, the type of deformation the UB team has excised from these specimens is what geologists call structural deformation, changes in the earth’s crust that occur over many millions of years during mountain building.

During their research, the UB researchers discovered that a significant amount of deformation also occurs from the hardening of the soft mud the organisms were buried in, which flattened the fossils, producing asymmetry.

"First these fossils were squashed during this hardening process and then they were smeared during mountain building," explained Mitchell.

The team plans to apply its computational techniques to both types of deformation to develop methods that will provide the clearest view of what the fossils looked like when they were still living inhabitants of Earth’s ancient oceans.

Ellen Goldbaum | University at Buffalo
Further information:
http://www.buffalo.edu/news/fast-execute.cgi/article-page.html?article=66490009

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht New Study Will Help Find the Best Locations for Thermal Power Stations in Iceland
19.01.2017 | University of Gothenburg

nachricht Water - as the underlying driver of the Earth’s carbon cycle
17.01.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biogeochemie

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.

According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

Im Focus: Studying fundamental particles in materials

Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales

Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Tracking movement of immune cells identifies key first steps in inflammatory arthritis

23.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

Electrocatalysis can advance green transition

23.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

New technology for mass-production of complex molded composite components

23.01.2017 | Process Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>