Visualisation and data analysis are central in modern paleontology, both for analysis of thousands of fossils with respect to evolution and environment, and more focused studies of taxonomy and ecology. In addition to methods known from other sciences such as biology and geology, many techniques are specific for paleontology. Paleontological data analysis is therefore a subject in its own right. A few examples:
Quantitative biostratigraphy is the analysis of large amounts of data on fossil occurrences with the aim of ordering the fossils in time. This is important for improving the geological timescale and correlating sedimentary strata across localities. NHM is developing software and new methods in this area.
Fossils can be difficult to photograph and measure. We work with new techniques in fossil imaging, including so-called ‘Polynomial Texture Mapping’ (PTM) which uses light from many different directions. Laser scanning of large fossils in the field is another technique which we are now starting to use.
Biological shape is perhaps the most important type of data in paleontology. We work with both morphometry (shape measurement) and simulation of growth mechanisms.
The Natural History Museum is well known internationally for research in these areas, through publication of text books and papers and not least the software package ‘Past’ which is used in most paleontological research institutions worldwide: