Many tools, physical and mental, are required for dinosaur studies, so people who are serious about learning dinosaur paleontology must know what to take into the field, both in their backpacks and brains. In their backpack, they should carry a variety of tools that allow them to find, measure, and record information about dinosaur fossils safely, efficiently, and effectively. Because dinosaurs are contained primarily in rocks, a basic knowledge of geological principles is needed to understand the local setting for their fossils and the larger-scale factors that affected their distribution. Geological principles, such as original hori-zontality, superposition, cross-cutting relationships, lateral continuity, and inclusions, can be applied while driving by a road cut that exposes strata, or while hiking in a wilderness area, lending a new dimension to interpreting the natural history of an area. Similarly, identification of guide fossils can immediately indicate the relative age (era, period, or epoch) of the rocks in a particular area. The combination of these low-cost observations with laboratory measurements of naturally decaying radioactive elements and their by-products gives a more complete picture of the immensity of geologic time. These observations also make allowances for demonstrating the considerable changes in dinosaurs and other fossil species through time. Knowing the mathematical and other scientifically-based reasoning behind radiometric age dating, as well as the cross-checks made through relative age dating methods, shows that the geologic time scale is based on reality and is a well-tested, accurate representation of the ages of rocks. Geologists and paleontologists use these dating methods every day, not just for finding and documenting dinosaur fossils but also especially for prospecting for the minerals and fossil fuels that make possible the lifestyle choices of industrialized nations.
With some basic knowledge of paleontological and geological principles, as well as a lot of energy, dinosaur fossils are discovered, recovered, brought back, and studied by paleontologists for the public appreciation of their inherent knowledge and beauty. The education required to find and study dinosaur fossils is well worth the long hours of studying geological principles, radiometric age dating, and plate tectonics that are necessary to form a more eclectic picture of dinosaur lives and afterlives. Finally, the existence of dinosaurs over 165 million years can be viewed against the background of the all-encompassing theory of plate tectonics, which would have affected dinosaur populations throughout most of the Mesozoic Era. Through the interactions of the lithosphere and asthenosphere, plate movement is responsible for phenomena as diverse as earthquakes, volcanism, and the occurrence of island chains. Because plate tectonics causes the movement of continents either away from one another or closer together through the course of geologic time, it is the main driving force behind the proximity of continents.
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