Personal profile

Research interests

Duncan Pirrie is Professor of Geology at USW. Prior to joining USW he was Associate Professor of Geology at the University of Exeter, before setting up a commercial consultancy company.  

He has published over 115 scientific papers and books.  Research on applications of forensic geology has included linking soil characteristics with crime scenes and using soils to identify geographical locations.  

He is co-author of a book The Guide to Forensic Geology  published by the Geological Society of London.  New work, funded through the International union of Geological Sciences is investigating the detection and mitigation of mining crime. Professor Pirrie is a Fellow of Advance HE (FHEA).

Current research interests fall into three main fields:

  • geoforensics and geoarchaeology
  • automated mineral analysis
  • sedimentology and petroleum geoscience

These three research strands are linked together through expertise in the application of automated quantitative mineralogy and provenancing of sediments, soils and man-made materials.  Current research projects are briefly summarised here.

  • Geoforensics and geoarchaeology.  I pioneered the application of automated mineralogy in forensic geoscience as a methodology which provides fully quantitative mineralogical datasets.  Underpinning forensic casework, research has focussed on the recovery of particulate geological trace evidence, establishment of methodologies for data analysis and reporting, and understanding spatial variability of soil mineralogy.  Ongoing research is examining the principles and application of geolocation studies based on soil and other particulate geological materials.  Automated mineralogy has also been used in the analysis of other types of particulate trace evidence including firearm discharge residues, explosion debris and man-made particulates.  Linking geoforensics with geoarchaeology is the analysis of construction materials and provenancing building stones along with the analysis of ancient ceramics and provenancing archaeological artefacts.

  • Automated mineral analysis.  Since 1999 I have been working on the development and application of mineral analysis based on automated SEM-EDS technologies.  My research has utilised the technology which allows the very rapid acquisition of energy dispersive spectra and their interpretation in terms of mineral or chemical groupings in many fields.  Whilst the technology was initially designed for the analysis of mining related mineral products, the technology can equally well be used for the characterisation of any inorganic chemical compound which can be distinguished based on ED analysis.  One long term aim of this research is to develop a new database of particle types based on SEM/EDS analysis.

  • Sedimentology and petroleum geoscience.  Ongoing completion of field based studies on both clastic and carbonate Mesozoic and Cenozoic basins in Antarctica, Argentina and New Zealand.  Sediment petrography, provenance and diagenesis studies based on quantitative QEMSCAN automated mineralogy on conventional clastic and carbonate reservoirs and also on unconventional shale gas targets along with source and seal lithologies on Carboniferous, Jurassic, Cretaceous and Cenozoic sequences.  Sediment provenance and diagenesis studies on modern aeolian, coastal, arid zone and cave sediments and Quaternary glacial sediments from Northern Europe, Portugal, Spain, Morocco and Germany.  Oxygen isotope palaeoclimatological studies on both marine and cave carbonates.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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