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GIS Application for Building a Nationally Representative Forensic Taphonomy Database

Award Information

Award #
Funding Category
Competitive Discretionary
Congressional District
Funding First Awarded
Total funding (to date)

Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2020, $457,536)

The purpose of this project is to develop a mechanism for death investigators for contribute data from case reports to build a data repository from which models of PMI can be developed. We anticipate data from at least 1500 case reports from a geographically diverse area would be available in the data repository by the end project period. We have established partnerships with three coroner offices, two medical examiners, and one non-governmental organization to initiate data collection. The research design and methods will utilize a GIS-based application to allow for efficient and reliable data collection when human remains are discovered. The application will record the location of decomposition which can be tied to existing environmental databases. These spatial databases can be accessed and aligned to the GIS location data gathered by forensic practitioners at the scene. Analysis of spatial data is a useful framework for modeling decomposition because it is possible to combine point data, such as individual characteristics observed at the scene, with continuous data, such as slope and vegetation type which are continuous variables across a landscape. The availability of this type of database for research would open possibilities for exploring different types of models of decomposition that have not been previously available. Supervised machine learning models will utilize the data repository as a training set to generate models for PMI. Powerful machine learning models will utilize this big data set to improve the understanding of the postmortem changes in various geographical locations and in different seasons. The data repository will be archived in the National Archive of Criminal Justice Data to be available for other researchers to test and refine models related to PMI. We also expect to create an application that will draw on the significant environmental data identified in this research to address the needs identified by the Forensic Science Research and Development Technology Working Group (TWG) to determine precise time since death using innovative methods and technology. For the field to develop models that are reliable, accurate, and with known error rates, a large dataset is necessary and currently missing from the field. This research will ensure the creation of a reference set to build models of decomposition and improve methods for determining the postmortem interval. Note: This project contains a research and/or development component, as defined in applicable law, and complies with Part 200 Uniform Requirements - 2 CFR 200.210(a)(14). CA/NCF

Date Created: October 22, 2020