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Macroscopic assessment of environmental trace evidence dynamics in forensic settings

Cubbage, HR, Macey, C and Scott, KR (2023) Macroscopic assessment of environmental trace evidence dynamics in forensic settings. Science & Justice, 63 (3). pp. 376-386. ISSN 1355-0306

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Open Access URL: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scijus.2023.03.004 (Published version)


Environmental trace evidence offers useful circumstantial intelligence to link persons and scenes of forensic interest. An increasing empirical research base is dedicated towards understanding the transfer and persistence dynamics of environmental indicators including pollen, soils, and diatoms, within a diverse range of experimental frameworks. This paper presents two discrete studies exploring transfer and persistence of soils and sediments on footwear and diatomaceous earth adhered to clothing in forensically pertinent scenarios. Variables including sediment type, foot position, clothing type, and body positioning were also explored throughout. Both experiments incorporated a field-based methodology during the sampling effort. Photographs were collected of an initial transfer sample and of a retained assemblage following hours, days, and up to one-week of wear, facilitating macroscopic assessment of trace evidence dynamics. All images were processed using accessible, open-source software before spatial analysis of evidence distribution within and temporal assessment (% retention) upon each evidential surface. The results highlighted consistent loss of transferred sediment from footwear with significantly greater retention of loamy clay soil than dune sand which was absent beyond 24 h of wear. Loss was not influenced by wearer gait but was more rapid from those areas of the shoe sole in direct contact with the ground. Diatomaceous earth was retrieved from all three clothing types tested after one week – significant losses of material occurred before 48 h with a consistent assemblage identified beyond this. Denim was significantly more effective than acrylic and fleece for diatomaceous earth retention and significantly more material was lost from clothing worn on the lower body. These findings highlight the value of using visual environmental markers and a macroscopic analytical approach during the investigation of environmental trace dynamics. The methodology offers a novel, non-destructive assessment of soil and diatom transfer and persistence, complementing more extensive laboratory-based examinations to ensure the development of a well-rounded research base within the forensic sciences.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Legal & Forensic Medicine
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GE Environmental Sciences
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA1001 Forensic Medicine. Medical jurisprudence. Legal medicine
Divisions: Biological & Environmental Sciences (from Sep 19)
Publisher: Elsevier
SWORD Depositor: A Symplectic
Date Deposited: 18 Apr 2023 15:50
Last Modified: 18 Apr 2023 16:00
DOI or ID number: 10.1016/j.scijus.2023.03.004
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/19247
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