In 2011, Smithsonian paleontologist Nicholas Pyenson heard rumors of a large number of marine fossils while working in the Atacama Region of Chile. This site, Cerro Ballena, or “whale hill” in Spanish, contained the skeletons of more than 30 whales and other marine mammals. Working against the clock because of imminent road construction over the site, Nick called in technology experts from Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office, Adam Metallo and Vincent Rossi, to 3D scan the fossil site.
With 3D technology, Adam and Vince preserved the Cerro Ballena site in its original form, documenting the fossils as well as the context in which they were discovered. Now, anyone in the world can explore the images, models and scientific findings from the site. With these findings and data, researchers at Smithsonian and around the world can continue to study how changes in climate affected marine biodiversity in the geologic past. Data from the past is crucial to understanding how climate change today will impact biodiversity in the near future because the rate and magnitude of changes to this planet only have parallels in the geologic past.