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Episodes 2017; 40(2): 141-147

Published online June 1, 2017


Copyright © International Union of Geological Sciences.

Predictive geolocation: forensic soil analysis for provenance determination

Duncan Pirrie1,2*, Lorna Dawson3, Giles Graham4

1Helford Geoscience LLP, Trelowarren Mill Barn, Mawgan, Helston, Cornwall, TR12 6AE, UK; *Corresponding author, E-mail: dpirrie@helfordgeoscience.co.uk
2School of Applied Sciences, Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Sciences, University of South Wales, Glyntaf, Pontypridd, Rhondda Cynon Taff, CF37 4AT, UK; International Union of Geological Sciences, Initiative on Forensic Geology (IUGS-IFG) Special Publications Adviser
3The James Hutton Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen, AB15 8QH, Scotland, UK; Treasurer, International Union of Geological Sciences, Initiative on Forensic Geology (IUGS-IFG)
4AWE Plc, Aldermaston, Reading, RG7 4PR, UK

Correspondence to:*E-mail: dpirrie@helfordgeoscience.co.uk

Received: December 1, 2016; Revised: March 4, 2017; Accepted: March 4, 2017

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Soil forensics is most commonly used to test an association between soils at a known location with soils recovered from exhibits recovered from a suspect. This type of comparative analysis is now a routine technique in many laboratories world-wide. Soils are however, very complex materials made up of natural inorganic, organic and manmade components. The distribution and abundance of these components is generally controlled by a range of predictable factors, such as bedrock geology, surface processes, plant and animal biogeographical distributions and anthropogenic processes. As such, the composition of a soil can be used as a predictive tool to describe the nature of the location where that soil originated. This approach to soil forensics, termed predictive geolocation, has many applications in criminal, environmental and intelligence based investigations.