Research Methods

Coastal Erosion and Drawing

Coastal Erosion and Drawing

The Wasson Bluff site is designated under the Special Places Protection Act (1989) as a protected place that prohibits any collection of fossils or minerals without obtaining a Heritage Research Permit. The following work was carried out under an approved Heritage Research Permit (2015).

Status of the Cliff Exposures

The erosion of the coastal cliffs at Wasson Bluff provide an opportunity for discovery of new fossils, including new bones from Canada’s oldest dinosaurs.  The site is monitored regularly by researchers at the Fundy Geological Museum. The monitoring and collecting of fossil material is justified due to the extreme richness of the site and importance for representing the time immediately after the global mass extinction that occurred at the end of the Triassic Period.

  • Careful collecting of small vertebrate fossils provides an opportunity to establish a rich stratigraphic record of the animal diversity following the mass extinction event at the end of the Triassic Period.
  • The ongoing erosion of the sandstone cliffs exposes a rich fossil record, including bones of dinosaurs, lizards (Clevosaurus), mammal-like reptiles (tritylodont and trithelodont), as well as semionotid (fresh water) fish and hybodont shark teeth and fin spines.

Drawing and Mapping Fieldwork

To document the location (stratigraphic layer) of the fossils, researchers create drawings, maps and take photographs of the cliff. The location is then determined by measuring the height in meters from a base layer, such as the contact with the underlying basalt.

Recent field work has begun to establish a new map of fossil bearing layers. Future work will also establish a high-resolution digital archive of the surface exposures and ongoing erosional processes. The information will be of value for studies of fossil material as well as identification of features related to coastal erosion during a period of climate change and rising sea level.

Scientists that do fieldwork often draw research sketches when conducting research. Researchers also use sophisticated photography and 3D scanning technology to document and study the coastal cliffs, but drawing is an activity that helps researchers observe important details. Below is an example of a recent field sketch done to document the piles of erosional debris at the dinosaur research site.

Field Sketch and Photo

Move slider across the image to see a field sketch and comparable photograph of the dinosaur bone bed strata and erosion debris visible July 2015.

Caution Around Cliffs

The coastal cliffs in Nova Scotia are actively eroding and caution should be used when walking near cliffs. Large scale collapse of cliffs can occur, but injury can occur from even a small rock falling from the cliff. Learn how to practice coastal cliff safety. Stay away from debris piles at the base of a cliff, as these signal increased danger due to active erosion.


Field Work Preparations

Field Work Preparations

During the past several weeks we have been getting equipment and supplies prepared for 10 days of field work.

Dr. Tim Fedak will lead a crew of 3-4 students and volunteers to examine the site where Canada’s oldest dinosaur skeletons have been found.  Previous field work (2000, 2004, 2006) recovered the bones of at least five different individuals, herbivorous (plant eating) prosauropod dinosaurs.

Fedak at Earthquake Dinosaurs Dig Site

Regular updates from the research field site will be posted on the affiliated Facebook page and Twitter Feed.

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Field Mapping on Fundy Shore

Field Mapping on Fundy Shore

Location, location, location – the three important factors of real estate …. are just as important in paleontology.  A fossil is nothing, when out of context.  A fossil has scientific and historical value only when the details of its original location are well documented.

Exposing bones in the quarry, 2004.

Exposing bones in the quarry, 2004.

the location and orientation of each bone is carefully documented when dinosaur bones are discovered during an excavation. Features of the sediment, like grain size or ripple marks, are important for interpreting fossil specimens. The sedimentary features provide a record of the ancient environment that preserved the fossils. Even the orientation of bones can provide evidence of the direction and strength of flowing water that moved the ancient skeleton.

Fossils are often deformed due to compression or tectonic movements, and this is especially true of the dinosaurs found in the Minas Basin.  Accurately documenting the orientation of fossils is necessary for interpreting the causes of fossil deformation.

Field mapping techniques are used to record the location of dinosaur bones and sediment features.

  • Traditional methods of field mapping with paper/pen field notes and hand drawn field maps remain important.  The information is recorded in grid quadrants, corresponding to grids installed at the excavation site.
  • Professional surveying equipment can also been used to establish highly accurate locations for significant specimens or to establish location of specific grid locations.

New digital field mapping methods are also being developed.  

High-resolution (24Mp) digital photographs and sophisticated photogrammetry software are used to create accurate 3D photographic models (Bennum et al. 2008). The highly accurate 3D meshes record the surfaces of bone and sediments as preserved in the cliff. These new techniques compliment traditional methods, especially in areas like the Fundy shore that have extremely complex geometries.

You can explore one of the first 3D models of the dinosaur cliff, created in 2011.

3D Model Demonstration


Stay tuned for more updates on the new digital field mapping techniques being developed while studying the Jurassic dinosaurs from the Bay of Fundy.