Comparison of Protocols for Measuring and Calculating Postmortem Submersion Intervals for Human Analogs in Fresh Water


  • Presented at the 63rd Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, February 21–26, 2011, in Chicago, IL.

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Michael K Humphreys, M.S.

Forensic Master's Program

University of California-Davis

1333 Research Park Dr.

Davis, CA 95616



Protocols for determining postmortem submersion interval (PMSI) have long been problematic for forensic investigators due to the wide variety of factors affecting the rate of decomposition of submerged carrion. Likewise, it has been equally problematic for researchers to develop standardized experimental protocols to monitor underwater decomposition without artificially affecting the decomposition rate. This study compares two experimental protocols: (i) underwater in situ evaluation with photographic documentation utilizing the Heaton et al. total aquatic decomposition (TAD) score and (ii) weighing the carrion before and after submersion. Complete forensic necropsies were performed as a control. Perinatal piglets were used as human analogs. The results of this study indicate that in order to objectively measure decomposition over time, the human analog should be examined at depth using the TAD scoring system rather than utilizing a carrion weight evaluation. The acquired TAD score can be used to calculate an approximate PMSI.