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The Centre for Australian Forensic Soil Science (CAFSS)

Purpose and Objectives | Important research and services role | Activities | Partners | Funding | Linkages | Workshops & Training | Publications | Education and Media | Contact Us

The Centre for Australian Forensic Soil Science (CAFSS) is the first formal worldwide network of soil and forensic scientists that combines research, training and services in soil forensics to fight crime, terrorism and environmental pollution.

A picture of the soil on the back of this shovel on which CAFSS conducted detailed analysis which was then used to help solve a homicide caseThe CAFSS has been actively involved in soils forensic work, assisting police forces, government agencies and non-government organisations with the search, location and recovery of soil and mineral samples from crime and environmental disaster scenes in Australia and overseas.

For example, it solved a double murder case by identifying the similarities between mineral assemblages in soils on a shovel and also from a quarry. The soils had a common provenance and revealed the location of two buried bodies. More information Soil science solving crimes - Podcast (MP3, 2.2 MB) May 2006 and Soil Science solving crimes - A4 Poster (PDF, 371 kB) May 2006

The CAFSS personnel include highly experienced soil science specialists in the interpretation of soil profiles, mineralogy, chemistry, biology, molecular diagnostics, geophysics as well as soil maps and topographic survey. CAFSS flyer print version (PDF, 128 kB) March 2011.


The CAFSS is a partnership between CSIRO, Forensic Science South Australia , The University of Adelaide, Flinders University , The National Institute of Forensic Science (NIFS), The University of South Australia (Ian Wark Research Institute) and Chemistry Centre Western Australia (Core Partners). The CAFSS is administered by CSIRO Land and Water in Adelaide, South Australia.

The centre also incorporates Network Members from State, Territory, and Federal government organisations and agencies, Universities, Police and international forensic science agencies. Also included are organisations such as Senior Managers Australia New Zealand Forensic Laboratories (SMANZFL) and private industries.

Purpose and objectives

  • To promote efficient and effective use of resources and research expertise in soil forensics.
  • To promote science excellence and co-operation with stakeholders by conducting research and communicating results and analysis techniques to forensic scientists in Australia and internationally.
  • To develop new criminal and environmental forensic techniques for soils.
  • To promote confidence in forensic soil science by performing in a direct service.
  • To provide leadership and best management practice in forensic soil science.
  • To conduct workshops, seminars and training courses on soils for police, other institutional professionals, undergraduates and postgraduates.

Important research and services role

The CAFSS undertakes specialised soil analyses work for a wide range of clients, including Australian (State, Territory, Federal) and International Police, forensic science and environmental agencies, major public utilities, large and small private companies and private individuals.

The CAFSS also conducts research within all the main disciplines of soil science. Many of its staff are at the forefront of their subject areas, and are active in the development of new areas of research and methodology, including the production of new information about Australia 's unique soil properties. They are applying their new methodologies in cutting-edge and internationally collaborative forensic research projects.

The CAFSS also offers a comprehensive range of advanced soil science services. Our expertise is available at every stage in the forensic planning process, from initial broad/regional assessments to targeted soil surveys and detailed laboratory investigations. Our expertise spans the following disciplines:

Soil profiling

  • Analysis and interpretation of topography, aerial photographs and soil maps.
  • Processing and analysis of soils from scenes of crime and associated objects.
  • Collection of soil samples from scenes of crime.
  • Morphological descriptions soils and interpretation.

Soil mineralogy

  • Light microscopy, X-ray diffraction (XRD), X-ray Spectroscopy (XRF), Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), Electron Microscopy (SEM, TEM); Refractive index and birefringence measurements.

Soil chemistry

  • Geochemical and physical analysis of samples to determine material source. Spectroscopy (e.g. UV/visible/ Diffuse Reflectance Infrared Fourier Transform Spectral analysis /Raman), ICP-MS, Chromatography, Electrophoresis, Cathodoluminescence, Mass spectrometry and related techniques e.g. GC-MS.
  • Stable Isotopes.

Soil biology / molecular diagnosis

  • Soil organic matter, diatoms, pollen, DNA Profiling of Soils.

Soil geophysics

  • Magnetic Susceptibility, Electromagnetics (EM 38 and 31), ground penetrating radar (GPR) etc.; Geophysical Surveys.

Contact us

Dr. Rob Fitzpatrick
CAFSS Director
CSIRO Land and Water
Private Bag No. 2
GLEN OSMOND, South Australia, 5064
Phone: +61 8 8303 8511
Fax: +61 8 8303 8550
Mobile: +61 (0)408 824 215
E-Mail: Rob.Fitzpatrick
Web: www.clw.csiro.au/staff/FitzpatrickR/

CAFSS partner logos

CAFSS partner logos

From CSIRO Land and Water, Pedology photograph set.
Description: Detailed analysis of soil on the back of this shovel was used to help solve a homicide case.
Photographer: Senior Constable Michael Heath. © 2004 CSIRO