K9 Water Searches: Scent and Scent Transport Considerations


  • Tom Osterkamp Ph.D.

    1. Professor Emeritus, University of Alaska—Geophysical Institute, PO Box 757320, Fairbanks, AK.
    2. Canine Search and Rescue Association, 833 Hwy W W, St. Clair, MO 63077.
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Additional information and reprint requests:
Tom Osterkamp, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus
833 Hwy W W
St. Clair, MO 63077
E-mail: teosterkamp@alaska.edu


Abstract:  Increased use of water search dogs for detecting submerged bodies has created the need for a better understanding of scent emanating from the bodies and how it transits the water to the dog’s nose. A review of recent literature identifies likely scent sources, potential scent transport processes, and research needs. Scent sources include gases in bubbles or dissolved in the water, liquids as buoyant plumes and droplets or dissolved in the water, and solids consisting of buoyant particulates with secretions, bacteria, and body fluids. Potential transport processes through the water include buoyancy, entrainment, and turbulence. Transport processes from the water surface into the air include volatilization and evaporation enhanced by bubble bursting, breaking waves, splashing, and wind spray. Implications for the use of water search dogs are examined. Observations of submerged, decomposing bodies are needed to quantify the physical and chemical characteristics of the scent and scent transport processes.