Master of Arts (MA)


Geography and Anthropology

Document Type



While algae are often used in forensic science for the determination and confirmation of death by drowning, their utility for the estimation of postmortem submersion interval (PMSI) has been underutilized. Algae are present in all water systems and will grow upon decomposing matter; yet, very little published literature exists on their use in PMSI estimation. Because PMSI is difficult to predict due to the variable nature of water, the reaction of the submerged body within water, and the lack of truly sarcophagous aquatic insects, algae are a potentially invaluable tool for the forensic anthropologist. This research investigates the utility of algae as an indicator of PMSI in a Louisiana bayou, considering both seasonality and clothing as factors. Fetal pigs (Sus domestica L.) were placed in water in both spring and fall, some clothed and some unclothed. Algae samples were collected from two pigs and two control tiles per season and analyzed for chlorophyll a concentration. Biomass removal was also measured on two similar pigs in order to quantify decomposition. Results indicate that chlorophyll a concentration conforms to a positive linear relationship with time in both spring and fall and on all substrates, being especially dense on clothed spring substrates. Thus, algae growth can be used to estimate PMSI. Additionally, a clothed body will decompose slower than an unclothed body, and decomposition is more rapid in spring than fall. This research adds to the academic knowledge of the utility of algae for estimation of PMSI and brings attention to the growing need for collaboration between multi-disciplinary scientists investigating forensic cases.



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Committee Chair

Manhein, Mary H.