Honors Program


Date of this Version

Spring 3-10-2023

Document Type



Van Holland, S. 2023.The Effects of Underwater Decomposition and Importance of the Postmortem Submerged Interval. Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Copyright Shelby Van Holland 2023.


Forensic Anthropology is a subfield of physical anthropology that studies and investigates skeletal analysis in hopes of identifying individuals, documenting trauma on the bones, and assisting law enforcement in ongoing cases. The environment that human remains are found in will affect the body, slowing or speeding up the rate of decomposition, whether the remains were found in a dry environment, on land, or in water. The postmortem interval (PMI) or time since death (TSD), is effective in terrestrial environments, but an aquatic environment changes the rate of decomposition and can result in different effects that the remains have from the water, or the organisms in the water. Studies surrounding the effect of decomposition in a terrestrial environment have many methods to help determine PMI, cause of death, and environmental markers; in an underwater environment, where remains have been submerged in water for a period of time, can be more difficult to determine because of the lack of research compared to terrestrial studies. Postmortem Submerged Interval (PMSI) is a newer method of estimating TDS, and when remains were placed in an aquatic environment. Factors like current, temperature, salinity, and adipocere are important to note in an investigation with submerged remains, along with the several types of scavengers that are present in bodies of water. In the past few decades, experiments using pigs as proxies for human cadavers have been used to study the effects of underwater decomposition. The body's soft tissue is heavily affected by an aquatic environment, along with partially or fully skeletonized remains.