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Forensic Soil Science

Participants examine a simulated hidden 'grave site' during a clandestine grave and human remains recovery training. Photo by Airman 1st Class Allison Payne.If you think soil science is boring, you may be surprised. For example, soils, because of their diverse properties and characteristics, can be used as evidence in criminal investigations. Soils information can help law enforcement professionals understand a localized area for crime scene investigations, the likelihood of a burial or clandestine grave, and the movement of scent when using human remains detection dogs. Soils can help forensic scientists assess the condition and age of bones, assess the potential preservation of bone suitable for DNA testing, estimate time since death, assess the relative completeness of a skeleton, and identify soil provenance, or soil “fingerprints.” Soil fingerprints are unique enough that a particular site or soil type can be determined for a soil sample of unknown origin.

Forensic soil science uses soil morphology, mapping, mineralogy, chemistry, geophysics, biology, and molecular biology to address legal questions, problems, or hypotheses. Knowledgeable field soil scientists have much to offer the forensic communities. Because of their unique ability to read the landscape and describe and compare soil details, they can recognize natural versus disturbed soils and the extent of disturbance in a field. They can also help by interpreting soil survey data, testing soil reaction (pH), and identifying unmarked or mismarked graves using geophysical tools.

(Link: Forensic Soil Analysis)