Forensic geoscience, as paraphrased from a definition of “forensic,” is the component of geological sciences that belongs to or is used suitably in courts of judicature and/or public discussion and debate. Murray and Tedrow (1974) in their text, Forensic Geology, describe only those areas of forensic geology that primarily relate to criminal investigations. In the ensuing decade and a half, however, the field has expanded and changed radically. This review defines and describes the subject in a much broader sense, including such forums as public discussion and debate. The principal examples cited are the applied geosciences component of engineering works.
Clearly, forensic geoscience, like consulting geology, is not a branch of geological sciences but rather a category of geological application. Yet it is important to separate forensic geoscience from the other areas of applied geoscience because the orientation and methodology of forensic geoscientists is normally quite different from that of the main body of practicing geoscientists. Furthermore, because much of forensic geological practice is focused on influencing public decisions of a judicial, regulatory, or legislative nature, forensic geoscience today owes its existence to government policies as expressed through laws, regulations, the judiciary, and public works.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the greatest volume of the litigation component of forensic geoscience was concerned with mining and water supplies, along with occasional criminal cases. However, by the 1930s, more forensic geological work was gradually being applied to engineering works, primarily for determining responsibility for engineering errors, unforeseen adverse conditions, and the determination of mineral values in eminent domain cases when land was taken for engineering projects.