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Integration of Soil Fingerprinting Techniques for Forensic Application

SoilFit logoThe SoilFit project was funded through the EPSRC Crime Initiative to investigate the potential of advanced analytical methods in providing soil forensic intelligence to police investigations.

Soil can be a valuable resource in forensic investigations as it contains a wide range of bio-geo-chemical signals that can potentially provide investigative intelligence and/or evidential value. However, the use of soil as evidence in criminal cases has been largely under-utilised.

The particulate nature of soil and our customary contact with the surface of the ground create ideal circumstances for the transfer and subsequent recovery of potential evidential material: one of the basic foundations of all trace evidence. Soil material can be found on crime relevant items such as clothes, shoes, floors, vehicles, and implements (e.g. spades).

In 1904 soil evidence was first formally presented in Germany by the forensic scientist Georg Popp. The development of the geo-forensic discipline over the last centuary has largely focused on identification and comparison of mineralogy, with powerful complementary information, on likely plant community composition, being derived from palynology.

Combining advanced soil analysis with spatially-referenced soil database information and rigorous statistical approaches could potentially provide opportunities to broaden the range of tools available to the forensic geo-scientist and police investigations.

The aims of the SoilFit project were to:

  1. test the potential of advanced soil analysis methods to distinguish different soil types
  2. build a database of analytical data across a variety of soil types common to the UK landscape
  3. develop 'decision support' guidance to facilitate the selection of the most appropriate analytical methods based on the type and amount of soil material
  4. develop rigorous statistical approaches to integrate advanced analytical data types
  5. develop a prototype ‘soil comparison’ tool capable of determining the most probable origin/landscape characteristics of soil sample of unknown origin
  6. develop a GIS tool to refine investigative search areas, based on available landscape-related datasets
  7. raise the awareness of the potential role of soil in criminal investigation.

The SoilFit team encompasses a large multi-disciplinary group of experts from across UK academic and law enforcement organisations. The project is complemented by the GIMI network (Geoforensics and Information Management for crime Investigation), also led by the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute.

EPSRC logo

Contact us for further information:

Lorna Dawson (PI)

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Updated: 23 Jan 2024, Content by: CN