Tennessee Lab Uses Lasers From The Sky To Find Unmarked Graves

UT researchers have created a mass grave at the university's Forensic Anthropology Center, also known as the "body farm." They're using spectral imagery and and a laser scanning technology known as LIDAR to examine how the burial site will change over a three year period. Image: University of Tennessee

UT researchers have created a mass grave at the university’s Forensic Anthropology Center, also known as the “body farm.” They’re using spectral imagery and and a laser scanning technology known as LIDAR to examine how the burial site will change over a three year period. Image: University of Tennessee

Technology from Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Lab could one day help in the discovery of war crimes or genocide. Researchers are looking for new ways to detect unmarked graves.

There are plenty of techniques to find human remains already. But they all involve being on the ground, near a suspected grave site. Researchers from Oak Ridge and the University of Tennessee are using spectral imagery and laser scanning in the hopes of finding graves from the air.

Scientists are tracking differences in elevation and other changes in the Earth’s surface that could indicate where bodies are buried.

UT graduate student Katie Corcoran is leading the research. “There are, still, hundreds of thousands of people missing from contemporary conflicts. And a remote sensing method for detecting mass graves could help address the issue of missing persons worldwide,” Corcoran said in an interview with the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Corcoran and her colleagues have created their own mass grave at UT’s “Body Farm.” They’ll study the decomposition of 10 cadavers over the next three years. Similar technology helped uncover a city in Cambodia that’s been buried for centuries.

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