Forensic Environmental Modelling
Friday 28 September 2018

Session B9 / h.11:00 -13:00
prof. Luca Palmeri - University of Padova, Italy

prof. Alberto Barausse - University of Padova, Italy

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Modelling is a powerful tool for testing hypothesis and analyzing or reconstructing scientific evidence, and thus it represents a useful tool in forensics. Environmental modelling, for example, is applicable to a variety of issues of interest in forensics, such as the back-calculation of pollution sources in the case of the contamination of air, water, soil and food sources (crops, fish, etc.), or the assessment of the effect of contamination on animal and plant populations and communities and on human health. In general, environmental modelling can be used to quantify the disturbance posed by human activities on any component of ecosystems and on the valuable benefits (known as ecosystem services) that ecosystems provide to society, and to identify actions to reduce, mitigate or compensate for such disturbance.

However, environmental modelling is a developing scientific field, often matter of research, and environmental models are affected by varying levels of uncertainty in the predictions they provide due to our incomplete knowledge of the modelled systems and the difficulties (and costs) connected to the collection of robust environmental observations. Furthermore, ecosystems typically display a high complexity and heterogeneity, features that make the use of environmental modelling problematic in forensic science. For example, in environmental systems, non-linearity, self-reinforcing feedbacks and indirect effects are common, making it difficult to establish a clear causal connection between human actions and a change in the environmental system. Indeed, there is no “law” in ecology (with the meaning that this word has in physics), and a common problem in ecological investigations is to distinguish correlation from causation.

This session welcomes talks showing successful, promising or potential applications of environmental modelling to forensics, as well as talks discussing the applicability of environmental modelling to forensics on a general level, and the practical and theoretical issues that need to be tackled to advance such applicability.