As a punishing drought hits parts of the world this summer, bodies of water have dried up exposing submerged relics from World War II in Europe, multiple sets of human remains at Lake Mead outside Las Vegas , and even an entire village in Spain.
The latest discovery as the water level drops: dinosaur tracks in Texas.
Severe drought conditions at Dinosaur Valley State Park, about 60 miles southwest of Fort Worth, exposed dinosaur tracks, according to Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife spokeswoman Stephanie Garcia. from around 113 million years ago that were previously hidden under the Paluxy River. The tracks, which were discovered this month, belong to Acrocanthosaurus, which are theropods, or bipedal dinosaurs with three toes and claws on each limb.
The dinosaur is said to have stood 15 feet tall and weighed nearly 7 tons when fully grown. They would have left their mark in sediments that hardened into what is now limestone, the researchers say.
“Due to excessively dry conditions last summer, the river has completely dried up in most places, which has resulted in the discovery of more tracks here in the park,” Garcia said in a statement. “Under normal river conditions, these new tracks are underwater and are usually filled with sediment, making them buried and less visible.”
The tracks are likely to be buried by rain again this week. But the discovery – even if for a brief moment – excited researchers and the public.
“The tracks buried under layers of sediment help protect them from natural weathering and erosion,” Garcia said.
Other tracks in Dinosaur Valley State Park belong to a sauropod, or long-necked, small-headed dinosaur, called Sauroposeidon proteles. This species is said to have stood 60 feet tall and weighed 44 tons when fully grown.
Louis Jacobs, vertebrate paleontologist and professor emeritus of earth sciences at Southern Methodist University, saw the tracks on Saturday. He said these discovered tracks joined previously known tracks and now total about 150 dinosaur steps.
“These footprints – they’re spectacular because they’re deep,” he said. “You can see the fingernails. There is more than one kind, and there are many.
Jacobs said the prints indicated there may be more that have yet to be discovered. As the river erodes it will expose more but also wash out others.
Dinosaur tracks collected from the Paluxy River in 1938 are on display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Similar tracks have been found in British Columbia and South America, said James Farlow, vertebra paleontologist and assistant professor of biology at Purdue University in Fort Wayne.
The river and park have been educating researchers about dinosaur behavior for decades, he said. But finds are often at the mercy of weather conditions, including frozen rocks in winter that crack the tracks.
The imprints occur on a unit of sedimentary rock called the Glen Rose Formation, which is mostly limestone, deposited around 105 to 110 million years ago, Farlow said.
“Texas is blessed with a lot of good fossils,” Farlow said, “not just of dinosaur footprints, but also of dinosaur skeletons.”
He added, “It is a resource that is continually being destroyed but continually being replenished.”
Texas is facing extreme weather, with parts of the state experiencing droughts and others experiencing flash floods, following a period of intense heat and dangerous wildfires.
Parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area saw more than 13 inches of rain Sunday through Monday, leading Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, the top elected official, to declare a state of disaster in the region. Governor Greg Abbott has asked the Texas Division of Emergency Management to mobilize resources to help residents affected by the flooding.
The drought has triggered water restrictions in Texas, including 27% of the state that is in the most severe drought warning category.
Scientists call a rapid change from extremely dry to extremely wet conditions a “precipitation boost”.
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