Podcast: Soil sleuths: geology and crime

Geology can be used in the investigation of serious crimes

Hello and welcome to Sixty Seconds Spotlight. I’m Associate Professor Duncan Pirrie, a geologist at the University of South Wales. My research focuses on how minerals help society. 

Few people realise that geology can be used in the investigation of serious crimes like murder.  The make-up of any soil relates to the solid geology beneath our feet along with more recent processes. As a result, soils are distinctive and relate to specific places.  

At a crime scene, traces of soil can stick to an offenders clothing or car. By analysing this soil we can test whether or not that soil came from the crime scene.  We can also turn the science around and use soils on for example a car, to identify the locations where it has been. 

But the link between geology and crime goes further still.  We all rely on mined minerals in our phones, cars and computers. Mineral commodities have a high value and that attracts the attention of organised crime cartels.  

Minerals produced from the ground and then concentrated can be stolen as they are transported around the world – this is big business – individual shipments might lose $1 million dollars in value. 

Consequently, one of my current areas of research is looking at how to investigate, detect and then deter this type of criminal activity. 

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About Dr Duncan Pirrie

Dr Duncan Pirrie, Geology researcher and lecturer, on location in the Azores

Duncan Pirrie is Associate Professor of Geology at USW.  Prior to joining USW he was Associate Professor of Geology at the University of Exeter, before setting up a commercial consultancy company.  

He has published over 115 scientific papers and books.  Research on applications of forensic geology has included linking soil characteristics with crime scenes and using soils to identify geographical locations.  

He is co-author of a book, "The Guide to Forensic Geology" to be published by the Geological Society of London.  New work, funded through the International union of Geological Sciences is investigating the detection and mitigation of mining crime.

You can view Duncan Pirrie's research outputs here.

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