Terrestrial laser scanning to model sunlight irradiance on cadavers under conditions of natural decomposition

Int J Legal Med. 2014 Jul;128(4):725-32. doi: 10.1007/s00414-014-1013-1. Epub 2014 May 8.


Human decomposition is a dynamic process that is influenced by both abiotic and biotic factors. Measuring these influences, in particular abiotic factors, on the decomposition process is often a challenge for scientists. Recently, researchers have turned to the use of advanced remote sensing technologies in forensic investigations. In this study, a new methodology is described that utilizes precise 3D images captured using terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) to calculate total solar irradiance on a cadaver in a partially forested environment. To test this new measurement approach under actual field conditions, three cadavers were placed in an outdoor environment to decompose. Laser scans were taken the day of placement and used to calculate the total solar irradiance at time points of 24 h, 1 week, and 1 month from placement. The results show that as time progresses, different cadavers at the field site and different areas of the same cadaver receive varying amounts of solar irradiance. The modeling based on these laser scans can be used to create predictive images of solar irradiance that may provide researchers with a new tool to help quantitatively assess the effect of solar irradiance on a cadaver ecosystem.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cadaver
  • Environmental Monitoring / instrumentation
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Forensic Pathology / methods
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional
  • Lasers*
  • Male
  • Postmortem Changes*
  • Sunlight*