July 12, 2024

New Study Reveals Forensic Evidence Can Survive Underwater for Weeks

A recent study conducted by Staffordshire University’s Centre for Crime, Justice and Security has uncovered groundbreaking findings regarding the persistence of forensic fibers underwater. The research reveals that fiber evidence can remain on fabrics submerged in water for several weeks, contrary to previous assumptions.

In many criminal investigations, evidence such as weapons and victims’ bodies are often discovered in aquatic environments, such as rivers and lakes. However, forensic examiners have traditionally believed that if items have been submerged in water for more than seven days, any valuable trace evidence would have dissipated, and thus, they would not seek it out.

The project, called the Forensic Fiber Freshwater (3F), was carried out in collaboration with Lunz Mesocosm Infrastructure (LMI), WasserCluster Lunz, the University of Vienna, and Italy’s University of Milano-Bicocca. Using artificial streams known as mesocosms, the researchers aimed to determine the persistence rate of polyester fibers on different fabric types over a four-week exposure period.

This novel approach of using mesocosms, typically employed for ecological research, marks the first time it has been utilized to analyze forensic evidence. The study focused on three textile materials: a woolen/nylon mix carpet, 100% polyester fleece, and a 95% polyester/5% elastane sports vest. Two flow velocities, high and low, were applied during the experiment.

The initial loss rates of fibers were highest within the first hour of submergence for all three fabric types. However, the persistence rates remained relatively constant after 24 hours for all textiles, and the researchers found that the two flow rates had no significant impact on fiber persistence.

An unexpected discovery was that, even after four weeks, the lowest percentage of remaining fibers was 33.4%. This indicates that valuable fiber evidence can still be detected even after prolonged exposure to water.

The study’s lead researcher, Professor Claire Gwinnett, expressed her excitement about the potential impact of these findings on criminal investigations. She stated, “Our findings could change how police direct investigations and help to uncover forensic evidence that was previously thought to be lost. We hope this will help investigators to identify more suspects and ultimately lead to more convictions.”

Furthermore, the study underscores the benefits of using mesocosms as a tool to replicate realistic aquatic environments in a controlled setting. The researchers believe that this approach can pave the way for future studies examining various types of trace evidence, such as gunshot residue, pollen, fingerprints, or DNA.

Dr. Katrin Attermeyer, coordinator of the stream mesocosms in Lunz am See and aquatic microbial ecologist at WasserCluster Lunz and the University of Vienna, emphasized the interdisciplinary nature of this collaboration and its potential for further advancements. She noted, “This collaboration between forensic scientists and aquatic ecologists has not only provided insights into other sciences but has also shown that mesocosms, traditionally used to answer ecological questions, are a valuable asset to other research areas such as forensic sciences.”

The study’s findings have been published in the journal Forensic Science International, opening up new possibilities for collecting crucial forensic evidence and potentially revolutionizing criminal investigations.


  1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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