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Geographic attribution of soils using probabilistic modeling of GIS data for forensic search efforts

December 5, 2018

Examinations of soil traces associated with forensic evidence can be used to narrow potential source area(s) by characterizing features of the trace soil assemblage, some of which are limited to specific regions. Soil characteristics may be used to infer the likelihoods of the soil trace being derived from distinct areas within digital maps, including both maps of discrete classes such as formations on geologic maps and land cover, and continuous geospatial data, such as distance from a point source. Seldom do digital maps precisely represent the observable characteristics in a soil trace. Nevertheless, logical assigned likelihoods based on the correspondence between the mapped characteristics and the observed soil particulate assemblage permit creation of a model of the more probable sources of the soil trace. This approach is applied to a 2003 case in which forensic soil samples derived from digging tools were characterized for investigative leads and to narrow the search area of a clandestine grave. This grave site was located in 2005. The suspect traveled approximately 5,000 km before arrest, so narrowing the prioritized search area for law enforcement would be beneficial. Soil examination and case circumstances were used to assign relative likelihoods within digital maps (GIS or Geographic Information Systems data) of geology, soil mineralogy, plant distributions, power plant locations, and proximity to the known travel path. The product of these individual probability maps generates joint probability models to narrow the recommended search area. The digital model output can be easily overlaid on infrastructure maps to aid law enforcement searches.

Publication Year 2019
Title Geographic attribution of soils using probabilistic modeling of GIS data for forensic search efforts
DOI 10.1029/2018GC007872
Authors Libby A Stern, Jodi B Webb, Debra A. Willard, Christopher E. Bernhardt, David Korejwo, Maureen Bottrell, Garrett McMahon, nancy McMillan, Jared Schuetter, Patrick Wheatley, Jack Hieptas
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems
Index ID 70226716
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Florence Bascom Geoscience Center