Forensic geophysics

Forensic Geophysics is a branch of forensic science and is the study, search, localisation, and mapping of buried objects or elements beneath the soil or the water, using geophysics tools for legal purposes. There are various geophysical techniques for forensic investigations in which the targets are buried and have different dimensions (from weapons or metallic barrels to human burials and bunkers). When in the subsurface, there is a contrast of physical properties between a target and the material in which it is buried, it is possible to individuate and define precisely the concealing place of the searched target. It is also possible to recognise evidence of human soil occupation or excavation.

Searching for forensic objects of interest obviously include clandestine graves of murder victims, but also include unmarked burials in graveyards and cemeteries, weapons used in criminal activities and environmental crime and wildlife crime.

There are various near-surface geophysical techniques that can be utilised to detect a near-surface buried object, which should be site and case-specific. A thorough desk study (including historical maps), utility survey, site reconnaissance and control studies should be undertaken before trial geophysical surveys and then full geophysical surveys are undertaken in phased investigations.

Search techniques

There are a variety of techniques that could be utilised for search, including seismics, GPR, electrical resistivity, bulk ground conductivity and magnetometry. Keele has the necessary geophysical and survey equipment already in-house, with both terrestrial and now aquatic search capabilities.


  • Pringle JK, Stimpson IG, Wisniewski KD, Heaton V, Davenward B, Mirosch N, Spencer F, Jervis JR. 2020. Geophysical monitoring of simulated homicide burials for forensic investigations. Sci Rep, 7544, vol. 10(1). link> doi> full text>
  • Wisniewski KD, Cooper N, Heaton V, Hope C, Pirrie D, Mitten AJ, Pringle JK. 2019. The Search for "Fred": An Unusual Vertical Burial Case. J Forensic Sci, 1530-1539, vol. 64(5). link> doi> full text>
  • Molina CM, Wisniewski KD, Drake J, Baena A, Guatame A, Pringle JK. 2019. Testing Application of Geographical Information Systems, Forensic Geomorphology and Electrical Resistivity Tomography to Investigate Clandestine Grave Sites in Colombia, South America. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 266-273, vol. 65(1). doi> link> full text>
  • Wisniewski KD, Pringle JK, Allen D, Wilson GE. 2019. Wildlife crime: The application of forensic geoscience to assist with criminal investigations. Forensic Sci Int, e11-e18, vol. 294. link> doi> full text>
  • Ruffell A, Pringle JK, Graham C, Langton M, Jones GM. 2018. Geophysical assessment of illegally buried toxic waste for a legal enquiry: A case study in Northern Ireland (UK). ENVIRONMENTAL FORENSICS, 239-252, vol. 19(4). link> doi> full text>
  • Dick HC, Pringle JK, Wisniewski KD, Goodwin J, van der Putten R, Evans GT, Francis JD, Cassella JP, Hansen JD. 2017. Determining geophysical responses from burials in graveyards and cemeteries. GEOPHYSICS, B245-B255, vol. 82(6). link> doi> full text>

Forensic geoscience to aid the Police and community

The development and application of forensic geoscience techniques by researchers at Keele University have directly informed ‘active’ and ‘cold case’ missing persons police investigations in the UK and beyond. Such work has improved police search training in terms of its efficiency and effectiveness, reducing the time to conduct searches from several weeks to a number of days. The research has also helped to locate victims killed in natural disasters and genocides in other parts of the world, as well as shaping archaeological excavations and in the detection of illegal waste sites and wildlife crime, including deliberate badger sett tampering.

Keele researchers have supported searches for missing persons in the UK, internationally, archaeology targets and to protect the environment. This has been achieved by monitoring controlled sites on campus/UK/international sites with collaborative colleagues, identifying burial sites, revising police search strategies for active and unsolved cases, detecting/characterising archaeological and environmental crime sites. Evidence provided has assisted criminal and civil court cases, have provided evidence to the 2018 House of Lords Forensic Science enquiry and been published in academic journal articles and Police practitioner magazines.


Staffordshire Police, National Crime Agency (NCA), DSTL, Lancs. Police, West Mids. Police, Met. Police, Thames Valley Police, Humberside Police, Essex Police, International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP)


Dr. Jamie K. Pringle - Senior Lecturer in Geosciences

Dr. Ian G. Stimpson - Senior Lecturer in Geophysics

Dr. Glenda Jones - Research and Teaching Fellow in Applied Geophysics

Dr. Kris Wisniewksi - Lecturer in Forensic Science 

Ben Davenward - Teaching assistant

Luke Hobson -  Technician