Diatom detection in the diagnosis of death by drowning

Int J Legal Med. 2000;114(1-2):6-14. doi: 10.1007/s004149900122.


A medicolegal/algological collaboration lasting several years aimed at developing methods for dealing with dead bodies found in water where the circumstances are not clear, has led to an interdisciplinary procedure. To enable algological analysis, sample preservation and preparation must be free from contamination or carry-over at the beginning of the autopsy, although it should be noted that the demands on the digestion method are very high. One or more water samples from the site of drowning (from surface and bed) should be taken. Microscopic-algological analysis should record quantitative (diatom density), qualitative (species) and morphological (description of diatom valves) details for every sample. Furthermore, the species index and dominance identity similarity indices are calculated during the analysis procedure. The algological conclusions are based primarily on the separation values of Kater as well as on pair-matching. The final report is the result of interdisciplinary collaboration.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autopsy / methods*
  • Diatoms* / classification
  • Drowning / microbiology*
  • Drowning / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Microscopy / methods
  • Specimen Handling / methods
  • Water Microbiology*