Lida Xing, Martin G. Lockley, Anthony Romilio, Hendrik Klein, Junqiang Zhang, Haiying Chen, Jiajie Zhang, Michael E. Burns & Xiaoli Wang (2017)
Diverse sauropod-theropod-dominated track assemblage from the Lower Cretaceous Dasheng Group of Eastern China: Testing the use of drones in footprint documentation.
Cretaceous Research (advance online publication)
The use of drones in the exploration and documentation of track surfaces in steep terrain, otherwise only accessible by time intensive climbing activity, is tested. Location is the Nanquan site, one of many now known footprint localities from the Lower Cretaceous Dasheng Group that has been recently exposed by local industrial excavation. It reveals an ichnofauna of sauropod, theropod, and ornithopod tracks and trackways occurring at multiple stratigraphic levels (at least 10) in a thin sequence of fine grained purple mudstones with thin sandstone units that are steeply inclined by >45Â. It was therefore necessary and most efficient to map the track-bearing surfaces using drone photography. The majority of track-bearing levels reveal sauropod tracks (cf. Brontopodus, cf. Parabrontopodus), which on some surfaces are very abundant. Large theropod tracks (cf. Grallator) and ornithopod tracks (Caririchnium) also occur, but only on single horizons. The ichnofauna is evidence of repeated activity by large dinosaurs in a fluvio-lacustrine floodplain setting susceptible to periodic desiccation. The Naquan site forms part of an extensive Dasheng Group outcrop belt with multiple tracks sites, most of these containing multiple track-bearing levels. As a result of the investigation, drone techniques can be recommended as an additional tool for quick documentation, in order to get a general overview and map of the track surface. Details are relatively distinct on the achieved photographs, however, a precise study still needs direct examination and documentation by classical outline drawings or photogrammetry.