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Lorna Dawson

Staff picture: Lorna Dawson
Environmental and Biochemical Sciences
+44 (0)844 928 5428 (*)

The James Hutton Institute
Aberdeen AB15 8QH
Scotland UK

Lorna Dawson is a Principal Soil Scientist in the Environmental and Biochemical Sciences group at the James Hutton Institute, and has over 25 years experience in managing and conducting research in soil and plant interactions.

Lorna is the Programme Advisor for the Environmental Change Programme at the Scottish Government (2011-2016), reporting to the Directors' Executive Committee to ensure effective delivery of the Scottish Government Research Programme in 2011-16. In this role a workshop on climate change and carbon management was held at the James Hutton Institute Aberdeen. The report of the workshop and the presentations shown are available on the KnowledgeScotland website.

She has led research on the impact of tree colonisation of moorland on below ground carbon dynamics, on tracking vegetation contributions through time in peat, and on the use of soil indicators to ascertain change over time. Recently she has developed the application of soil organo-mineral markers in forensic investigations. She has published widely and regularly presents at national and international conferences, as well as contributing to local events and public talks. She is on the Editorial Board of the International Scholarly Research Network in Soil Science, is a visiting Professor at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, and contributes to courses in the Department of Archaeology in the University of Aberdeen and also the Robert Gordon University. She has supervised over 15 PhD projects and has published over 70 refereed journal papers and book chapters.

Current research interests 

Lorna is head of the Hutton Soil Forensic team (see leaflet on our soil forensic services, PDF file) and collaborates on research projects with UEA, Portugal, Germany and in Indonesia. Lorna was Principal Investigator of a project funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), developing tools for soil characterisation for use in forensics. This work involved collaboration with the National Soil Resources Institute (NSRI) and the Northern Ireland Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences Division, as well as various forensic experts in the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), forensic agencies and various police laboratories and forces throughout the UK. In addition, she established, and was joint co-ordinator of an international Geoforensics network, funded by EPSRC, with members from six nations.

She is the Communications Manager on the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) Initiative on Forensic Geology, and has coordinated sessions at the Crime Networks Meeting, London, 2007, 2008 and 2009, and has organised two major conferences on environmental and criminal soil forensics (SFI, 2007 and 2010) (The 3rd International Workshop on Criminal and Environmental Soil Forensics) and the International Network of Environmental Forensics. She has recently co-edited a book on Geoforensics (Springer, 2009). She is a trained expert witness and has worked as a soil specialist on over 25 cases. She is a Chartered Soil Scientist, and a council member of the Institute of Professional Soil Scientists.

She has considerable experience in knowledge exchange, is a member of the Scottish Government Knowledge Exchange Group, has developed many resources for schools and has just completed a sabbatical working for the BBC, advising on programmes such as Countryfile and Silent Witness and Vera. She is responsible for developing many of the Institute's soil education resources, for example, composting and is currently developing a suite of remote learning tools with Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) and Crofting Connections, which was commended at the 2011 Scottish Annual Geography Teachers Conference. She recently won a Scottish Government grant to organise and perform in public debating events across Scotland, examining the interface between forensic science and fiction, which was awarded the best live science communication event. She has also worked with crime author Ann Cleeves to produce a Murder, Mystery Pack to be distributed to libraries to run public events.


Lorna's highlighted publications

  • Carvalho, A.; Ribeiro, H.; Dawson, L.A.; Mayes, B.; Guedes, A.; Abreu, I., (2012) Independent techniques for the forensic characterisation of river beaches., 6th European Academy of Forensic Science Conference, (EAFS), Towards Forensic Science 2, The Hague, Netherlands, 20-24 August, 2012, p189.
  • Dawson, L.A., (2012) Soil as intelligence and evidence: learning experiences from research and casework., 6th European Academy of Forensic Science Conference, (EAFS), Towards Forensic Science 2, The Hague, Netherlands, 20-24 August, 2012, p291. Keynote presentation, p137.
  • Dawson, L.A., (2012) The James Hutton Institute research focussing on soils and the environment., CSIRO, Floreat, Perth, Australia, 3 October 2012.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Bestwick, C., (2012) RESAS strategic programme of research., CSIRO, Floreat, Perth, Australia, 3 October 2012.
  • von der Luhe, B.M.; Dawson, L.A.; Mayes, R.W.; Forbes, S.L.; Fielder, S., (2012) The preliminary investigation of animal sterols for the detection of decomposing bodies in soil., 6th European Academy of Forensic Science Conference, (EAFS), Towards Forensic Science 2, The Hague, Netherlands, 20-24 August, 2012, p291.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Czerniakiewicz, M.; Handley, K.; Hillier, S.; Robertson, J.; Ross, J.M.; Towers, W.; Donnelly, D.; Mayes, R.W., (2010) A complementary approach to the forensic analysis of soil in case investigations., International Workshop on Criminal and Environmental Soil Forensics, 3rd, Long Beach, California, 2-4 November 2010.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Hillier, S., (2010) Measurement of soil characteristics for forensic applications., Surface and Interface Analysis, 42, 363-377.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Hillier, S.; Duff, B.; Robertson, J.; Ross, J.M.; Brewer, M.; Mayes, R.W.; Towers, W.; Hudson, G.; Campbell, C.D., (2010) Use of soil fingerprinting approaches for ascertaining change over time., ASA, CSSA and SSSA 2010 International Annual Meeting, Long Beach, California, 31 October - 4 November 2010.
  • Macdonald, L.M.; Dawson, L.A.; Singh, B.K.; Hillier, S.; Robertson, A.H.J.; Mayes, R.W.; Campbell, C.D.; Bellamy, P.A.; Ritz, K., (2010) Biomolecular analyses to complement mineral-based forensic geoscience approaches in distinguishing urban land-use types., International Workshop on Criminal and Environmental Soil Forensics, 3rd, Long Beach, California, 2-4 November 2010.
  • Neely, C.L.; Dawson, L.A.; Morrice, J.G.; Miller, D.R., (2010) Murder and mystery in the Sherriff Court., Orcadian, 2 September 2010.
  • Ross, J.M.; Mayes, R.W.; Mauquoy, D.; Dawson, L.A., (2010) Development of plant wax biomarker analysis in soil for use in forensic investigation., International Workshop on Criminal and Environmental Soil Forensics, 3rd, Long Beach, California, 2-4 November 2010.
  • Barclay, A.D.; Dawson, L.A.; Donnelly, L.J.; Miller, D.R.; Ritz, K., (2009) Soils in forensic science: underground meets underworld., In: Ritz, K., Dawson, L.A. & Miller, D.R. (eds.). Criminal and Environmental Forensics. Springer, Dordrecht, Chapter 32, 501-514.ISBN: 978-1-4020-9203-9
  • Britton, A.J.; Helliwell, R.C.; Lilly, A.; Dawson, L.A.; Armitage, H., (2009) Cold storage: climate change and carbon sequestration in the alpine zone., Towards integrated biodiversity policy: developing a shared understanding of the impacts of environmental and management change on biodiversity in upland ecosystems. Battleby, Perth, 24 November 2009
  • Ritz, K.; Dawson, L.A.; Miller, D.R. (eds.), (2009) Criminal and environmental soil forensics., Springer, 519pp. ISBN: 978-1-4020-9203-9
  • Ruffell, A.; Dawson, L.A., (2009) Forensic geology in environmental crime: Illegal waste movement and burial in Northern Ireland., Environmental Forensics, 1, 208-213.
  • Macdonald, L.M.; Singh, B.K.; Thomas, N.; Brewer, M.; Campbell, C.D.; Dawson, L.A., (2008) Microbial DNA profiling by multiplex terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism for forensic examination of soil evidence and the influence of sample condition., Journal of Applied Microbiology, 105, 813-821.
  • Picon-Cochard, C.; Pilon, R.; Revaillot, S.; Jestin, M.; Dawson, L., (2008) Use of near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy to predict the percentage of dead versus living grass roots., Plant and Soil, 317, 309-320.

Lorna's most recent publications

  • Dawson, L.A., (In press) Soil as physical evidence., Taylor and Francis.
  • Dawson, L.A, (2014) International linkages within research institutes., Internal Report to RESAS.
  • Eley, Y.; Dawson, L.A.; Black, S.; Andrews, J.; Pedentchouk, N., (2014) Understanding H-2/H-1 systematics of leaf wax n-alkanes in coastal plants at Stiffkey saltmarsh, Norfolk, UK., Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 128, 13-28.
  • Khan, M.A.; Qureshi, M.Z.; Dawson, L.A.; Rehman, M.; Hayat, A.; Maqbool, F.; Andleeb, F.; Haleem, K., (2014) Efficient desizing of fabrio using partially purified thermophillic amylase produced by T.sacchari by the utilization of agro-industrial wastes., In: Cong, H., Yu, B. & Lu, X. (eds.). Frontiers in Micro-Nano Science and Technology. Advanced Materials Research, Trans Tech Publications, Switzerland, 924, 349-353. Http://
  • Miller, D.R., Dawson, L.A., Morrice, J., Donnelly, D., (2014) Structure and specifications for geoforensics database: D5.2., EU MiSAFE Project "Structure and Specifications for Geoforensics Database", Deliverable D5.2.
  • Carvalho, A.; Ribeiro, H.; Mayes, R.; Guedes, A.; Abreu, I.; Noronha, F.; Dawson, L.A., (2013) Organic matter characterization of sediments in two river beaches from Northern Portugal for forensic application., Forensic Science International, 233, 403-415.
  • Dawson, L.A., (2013) Evidence in court., West Midlands Police and the Crown Prosecution Service. Op Devonshire.Trial. Crown V MILLS, MCTIGHE, BLACKSTOCK, ROBERTSON and BARWELL. Highly Confidential.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Bestwick, C., (2013) The RESAS strategic programme of research., Scottish Government Development Programme, Hosted by the Chief Scientist.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Morrice, J.; Miller, D.R.; Hester, A.J.; Stutter, M.I.; Matthews, K.B.; Stott, A., (2013) Strategic Research programme: programme 1 Environmental Change, Report for 2012/13., Report to RESAS, 3 May 2013.
  • Drewitt, J.; Dawson, L.A.; Bestwick, C., (2013) KE for research impact in the Strategic Programme., KE for Research Impact Workshop, Victoria Quay, Edinburgh, 25 March 2013.
  • Farruga, K.; Brandey, K.; Dawson, L.A.; NicDaeid, N., (2013) A comparison of enhancement techniques for footwear impressions on dark and patterned fabrics., Journal of Forensic Sciences, 58, 1472-1485.
  • Mehmood, F.; Rashid, A.; Mahmood, T.; Dawson, L.A., (2013) Effect of DTPA on Cd solubility in soil - accumulation and subsequent toxicity to lettuce., Chemosphere, 90, 1805-1810.
  • Miller, D.R.; Dawson, L.A.; Morrice, J.; Ross, J.; Freitag, T.; Robinson, L., (2013) Knowledge exchange and dissemination strategy., Deliverable D7.1 (Knowledge Exchange Strategy), EU MiSAFE Project.
  • Pirrie, D.; Ruffell, A.; Dawson, L.A., (2013) Environmental and criminal geoforensics - an introduction., In: Pirrie, A., Ruffell, A. & Dawson, L.A. (eds.). Environmental and Criminal Geoforensics. Geological Society, London, Special Publications, 384.
  • Rivington, M.; Dinnie, E.; Craig, T.; Heslop, S.; Slee, B.; Matthews, R.; Nijnik, M.; Morris, S.; Stewart, D.; Martin-Ortega, J.; Dawson, L.A.; Daniell, T., (2013) Climate: Public understanding and policy implications., The James Hutton Institute response to the UK Parliament House of Commons Select Committee Inquiry, April 2013.
  • von der Luhe, B.; Dawson, L.A.; Mayes, R.W.; Forbes, S.L.; Fiedler, S., (2013) Investigation of sterols as potential biomarkers for the detection of pig (S. s. domesticus) decomposition fluid in soils., Forensic Science International, 230, 68-73.
  • Bestwick, C.; Dawson, L.A., (2012) 2011 - 2012 Spotlight. Scottish Government Strategic Research Programme., Knowledge Scotland andD EC Committee. Science Policy Connections Online, Sustainability and Communities.
  • Dawson, L.A., (2012) The Environmental Change Programme of Strategic Research., Environmental Change Programme. Annual Report to RESAS, July 2012.
  • Dawson, L.A.; Rhind, S.M.; Zhang, Z.L.; Poggio, L.; Kyle, C.E.; Mayes, R.W.; Aalders, I.H.; Osprey, M.; Ross, J.; Cuthbert, A., (2012) Linking distribution of soil PaHs to location as a forensic tool., In: Morrison, R.D. & O'Sullivan, G. (eds.). Environmental Forensics: Proceedings of the 2011 INEF Conference. Royal Society of Chemistry Publishing, Cambridge, pp199-205.
  • Farrugia, K.; Bandey, H.; Dawson, L.A.; NicDaeid, N., (2012) Chemical enhancement of soil based footwear impressions on fabric., Forensic Science International, 219, 12-28.

Articles of interest

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.