Forensic Science Experts for Criminal Defence Solicitors

Call head office 01782 394929
London Office 0207 118 9001
Freephone 0800 999 7 666

Beneath the Surface of Soil Testing

Written by: Alan Baker 8th June, 2023

Soil from reservoir compared to samples from prime suspect’s van

Madeleine McCann was three years old when she vanished while her parents and siblings were holidaying in the village of Praia da Luz in 2007.

Soil from a reservoir in Portugal searched by police last month is being compared with samples from main suspect Christian Brueckner’s camper van, it has been reported.

Detectives believe Brueckner visited the remote Barragem do Arade reservoir in Portugal’s Algarve region days after Madeleine disappeared. Officials now believe they can prove that Brueckner’s van was in the area at the time the three-year-old was abducted.


Soil forensics is a branch of forensic science that involves the analysis and interpretation of soil evidence to aid in criminal investigations. It has several benefits that contribute to the field of forensic science and the criminal justice system as a whole.

Here are some key advantages of soil forensics:

1) Soil evidence can provide valuable information about a crime scene or a suspect’s location. Soil samples collected from the scene or a suspect’s shoes, clothing, or vehicle can be compared to samples taken from other locations to establish connections. By analysing the physical and chemical properties of soil, forensic scientists can determine if soil samples are similar or unique, helping to link suspects to specific locations.

2) Soil forensics can help establish timelines of events or movements related to a crime. By analysing the composition and characteristics of soil samples, experts can determine the age of the soil or identify unique geological features that indicate when and where an activity occurred. This information can provide crucial insights into the sequence of events and aid in reconstructing the crime scene.

3) Soil evidence can confirm or challenge witness testimonies. For example, if a witness claims to have been at a certain location during a specific time, soil analysis can help verify their statement by comparing soil samples from that location with samples collected from the witness’s shoes or clothing.

4) Soil particles can easily adhere to various surfaces such as clothing, shoes, vehicles or tools, and get transported from one location to another. Soil forensics can identify and analyse these transferred soil particles, potentially linking a suspect or a victim to multiple crime scenes or locations relevant to the investigation.


While soil forensics offers numerous benefits, there are also certain challenges and limitations associated with this field of study.

Here are some problems commonly encountered in soil forensic analysis:

1) Lack of standardisation: Soil forensic analysis lacks a standardised approach across different laboratories and jurisdictions. Variations in methods, techniques, and interpretation can lead to inconsistencies and difficulties in comparing results between different forensic practitioners. The absence of uniform protocols hampers the reliability and reproducibility of soil forensic evidence.

2) Environmental variability: Soil composition can vary greatly within short distances due to factors such as topography, climate, and land use. This variability presents a challenge when attempting to establish a definitive link between a suspect and a specific crime scene based solely on soil characteristics. Without comprehensive soil databases or detailed knowledge of the local soil characteristics, making precise comparisons and identifications becomes more challenging.

3) Contamination and degradation: Soil evidence is susceptible to contamination from external sources, such as cross-contamination during collection, storage, and analysis. Contaminants can interfere with accurate identification and characterization of soil samples, potentially leading to erroneous conclusions. Additionally, soil samples can degrade over time, especially if not properly stored, affecting their integrity and reliability as forensic evidence.

4) Limited access to a diverse collection of soil samples from various locations hinders the ability to make accurate comparisons and identifications. The absence of extensive and well-curated soil databases reduces the effectiveness of soil forensic analysis.


Overall, soil forensics can provide valuable information in criminal investigations by establishing connections, providing timelines, supporting testimonies, identifying transfer evidence, and providing geolocation insights. It can significantly contribute to the successful resolution of cases and the delivery of justice.

However, addressing these challenges and improving standardisation, database resources, and expertise can enhance the reliability and effectiveness of soil forensic analysis, allowing it to reach its full potential as a valuable tool in criminal investigations.