The effect of water conditions on decomposition rate

Research Centre for Field Archaeology and Forensic Taphonomy

Drowning is a common cause of death; globally, over 200,000 people drown each year. Many factors, such as water type, temperature, salinity, hardness and the depth of immersion affect the rate of decomposition in water and the accuracy of post-mortem submersion interval (PMSI) estimations, but these have not been researched thoroughly.

This research aims to investigate the effect of these water conditions on the rate of decomposition in mammalian human-analogues and humans. Also, the extent of decomposition in bodies recovered from water is measured using decomposition scoring systems (DSS), such as the Total Aquatic Decomposition Score (TADS), which is adapted from terrestrial DSS for estimating post-mortem interval (PMI) such as Total Body Score (TBS). In addition, existing DSS are limited because they have been developed from studies of individuals with pale skin and are rarely implemented in cases with darker skin tone victims. This research also aims to validate whether the DSS can be applied to drowning cases from Africa or cases involving individuals with darker skin tones by comparing drowning cases from countries like the Netherlands, Nigeria, South Africa, and the U.K.