Forensic Investigations

Knowing the time of death is of paramount value in any homicide investigation, but estimating elapsed time since death is difficult or even impossible after a body has been submerged in the ocean for a long time. In addition, marks on remains recovered from the ocean can easily be misinterpreted as wounds inflicted before or at the time of death, rather than as normal decay processes to a submerged carcass.

Pig carcasses are commonly used as proxy for human remains in forensic research. VENUS underwater cameras are being used to study the decomposition of pig carcasses, lowered to the seafloor within both a protective cage and unprotected.

Results reveal strong correlations between ocean chemistry conditions (e.g., ambient oxygen concentration) and macrofaunal scavenging (e.g., feeding by swarms of benthic amphipods) on rates of carcass degradation.

This work is continuing, including the analysis of bone remains retrieved after months of in situ observations. To learn more, contact staff scientist Fabio De Leo.