Ed Theriot

Energy company BP donated $40,000 to UT in an effort to help preserve the Glen Rose dinosaur tracks housed outside the Texas Memorial Museum. The tracks, which are currently deteriorating because of varying moisture levels, may only have months left to be preserved.

Photo Credit: Trent Lesikar | Daily Texan Staff

Efforts to save the Glen Rose dinosaur tracks from extinction and to preserve them for generations to come are in the works because of the Texas Natural Science Center and outside donors.

The British Petroleum oil and gas company donated $40,000 to the Help Save the Tracks campaign, said Susan Romberg, spokeswoman for the Texas Natural Science Center. The center’s goal is to raise $1 million for the preservation of the dinosaur tracks.

The tracks were discovered in 1938 near Glen Rose by the Paluxy River in northern Texas, said Ed Theriot, director of the Texas Memorial Museum and professor in the College of Natural Sciences. He said some of the tracks were moved to a small building located next to the Texas Memorial Museum on the UT campus, while some of them were moved to the American Museum of Natural History.

“Scientists think that the tracks show two dinosaurs — one large dinosaur who is ‘stalking’ a smaller dinosaur,” Romberg said. “It’s beyond way cool. These are actually the first documented track findings of a theropod.”

The campaign has received many small individual donations online as well as from other organizations, such as Tokyo Electron America, Romberg said.

There is no exact cutoff for how long the preservation project could be pushed on, Theriot said.

“The basic issue is that where they are, they are exposed to extreme temperature and humidity shifts,” Theriot said. “They were basically laid on the ground on concrete, but even concrete is porous to moisture. There are various salts in the rock that cause the rock to deteriorate, and eventually, the rock will crumble.”

Theriot said reparations should be done sooner rather than later.

“The longer they sit there, the more detail they will lose,” Theriot said. “They’ve been here for about 60 years, and while they’re not going to crumble tomorrow, I don’t see them lasting another 60.”

UT has already invested $250,000 in the project for an assessment of the tracks, Romberg said. She said this includes a plan by a stone conservation company to do all the work necessary to treat the tracks and place them inside an environmentally controlled building.

“Though $40,000 is not a sufficient amount or may not seem like a lot of money, it will get the ball rolling for corporate funding to get started in a nice way,” Romberg said. “Our ultimate goal is to raise another $700,000.”

The dinosaur tracks will be removed from their current building outside the Texas Memorial Museum and moved to their own environmentally safe exhibit in the museum.

“The tracks will be chemically stabilized and treated in such a way that stabilizes any current damage,” Theriot said. “We want to bring them inside the museum and create a nice exhibit and put them in a sit where there is less humidity and temperature fluctuation.”

Health sciences sophomore Jessica Weldon, who loves learning about dinosaurs, said taking care of the tracks is a necessary part of preserving historical sites associated with UT.

“Growing up, dinosaurs and fossils fascinated me, and one of my favorite memories is of going to see the Glen Rose tracks with my dad,” Weldon said. “I’m glad a new generation of aspiring paleontologists will get to enjoy these tracks in a more suitable environment.”

The Texas Natural Science Center will restore a 112-million-year-old deteriorating dinosaur tracks fossil before moving it to the Texas Memorial Museum.

The tracks, which have been at UT since 1941, are currently on a slab of mortar inside of a non-climate controlled building made specifically for the tracks.

The sauropod tracks in the slab are important because they are the standard to which other similar tracks are scientifically compared, said Pamela Owen, senior paleontology educator at the Texas Memorial Museum.

“The track slab will be treated and then placed in the Hall of Geology and Paleontology in the Texas Memorial Museum, which is climate controlled,” Owen said. “The new exhibit will also improve public viewing of the tracks.”

The slab must be disassembled and taken out the front of the building. It will then be taken for treatment and conservation before being brought into the museum. The slab is extremely heavy and must be handled with great care, Owen said.

Texas Memorial Museum director Ed Theriot said the conservation work should take 12 to 24 months.

“There certainly has been a lot of deterioration,” Theriot said. “Particularly, there has been a loss of surface detail. There has been some chemical decomposition of the stone. The whole thing is not turning to dust — it’s still quite solid — but with time, stones under certain conditions can undergo chemical deterioration.”

The museum has not yet raised the $1 million it requires to move the tracks.

“So far the University has contributed roughly $200,000 toward this conservation study,” Theriot said. “Unfortunately, we began this campaign just about the time that the economic downturn began and we’ve had to proceed slowly. It’s not a simple matter to raise a million dollars under any circumstances.”

Christina Cid, the director of education at the Texas Memorial Museum, said the dinosaur tracks will help with teacher training and education for kids who can learn what dinosaur tracks say about animal behavior.

“The tracks will give us increased opportunities for programming,” Cid said. “I think it will also give visitors renewed interest in coming to the museum.”

She said the current location does not provide visitors with optimal viewing.

“The tracks are hard to see where they’re currently located,” Cid said. “Getting them inside, especially the way we are planning to display them, will give people the opportunity to see them in a whole different way. It will be an exciting time to bring additional visitors into the museum.”