The areas where the mysterious feet have washed ashore. (Black Press File)

Coroners use new tool to crack mystery of the floating feet in the Salish Sea

BC Coroner Service enlists help of UBC professor’s currents tracking model

BC Coroners Service (BCCS) are using a complex scientific model to crack the mystery of the Salish Sea’s floating feet.

1887 was the first recorded find of a floating stump of a foot, at Vancouver’s so named Leg-in-Boot square, and over the last 12 years 21 feet have washed ashore in Washington State and western B.C.

RELATED: Hundreds of floating ‘Sponge Bobs’ help track ocean currents

Theories have ranged from Asian tsunami victims and plane crashes, to a serial killer and mafia hits, but the authorities now think suicides and accidents are more likely causes.

The Special Investigations Unit of BCCS has sought help from a UBC professor, in the Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences department, who has created a finely tuned computer system called the SalishSeaCast model.

“Susan Allen and her team have constructed a model which records and predicts the tidal surface of the straits; naturally, our team wanted to use that to try and predict, for example, where feet may have come from and how they travel. So Susan Allen’s team was able to send us tidal strength and direction data sets from times just before feet have been discovered to try and get an inkling where they may have come from,” says Andy Watson, Communications Manager for BCCS.

Allen’s model is a real-time research and casting system for the Salish Sea, constructed in collaboration with a number of other scientific and government partners. It is run every day and is so accurate, it has been used to track migrating salmon, predict oil spill movement and by ferries to navigate more safely.

RELATED: Scientists warn warmer and more acidic oceans threaten marine life

“Finding out how the strait works is infinitely fascinating to me,” says Allen.

Her model uses 14,400,000 box shaped instruments half a kilometre by half a kilometre in size, to track the way the ocean moves. Using fluid dynamic equations for each box, her team is able to calculate the myriad contributing forces, as well as taking other factors into consideration, such as the outflow of 150 different rivers.

As a result, Allen’s group can track and predict the currents, sea temperature, water salinity and storm surges in the strait of Georgia. There is also biological modelling that predicts phytoplankton proliferation and soon there will be an ocean acidification component.

“We have an awful lot of boxes [to analyze] but computers are good at that,” she says wryly.

These computers are some of the most powerful in the country and are run by organizations such as Ocean Networks Canada, Compute Canada, Institute of Ocean Sciences and Environment and Climate Change Canada.

BC Coroners Service contacted Allen specifically to help their investigations into the floating feet, and corpses that originated in Vancouver but washed ashore on Gulf Islands.

ALSO READ: Vancouver Island overdue for the big one, can also expect mega-thrust tsunami

“Of course, the tides are unpredictable and ever-changing based on time throughout the day. We know when a particular foot was discovered, for example, but we have no idea when it actually washed up on shore we only know when it was reported to us. However, the data is certainly useful as it gives us a general indication on direction of tidal flow within the area and where remains that might be floating on the surface of the water may go to or come from,” says Watson.

Allen says that she first met the special investigations team this fall and they asked about three specific dates. She is glad her model is being used widely.

“It’s wonderful to know it’s being used in the community. I think it will continue to be used for a bunch of applications and in ways I haven’t even thought of.”

BC Coroners say they will continue to use all tools at their disposal to help their investigations.

“No formal conclusions have been drawn as of yet,” notes Watson.

Just Posted

Struggling Victoria adoption agency elects new board that intends to keep it open

The previous board announced that Choices would close May 31

Chinese Culture to light up 2019 Victoria Day Parade

Groups hopes Greater Victorians ‘view the culture, embrace the friendship’

Highlands group invites provincial leaders to a panel opposing local mining application

The public forum begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Highlands Community Hall, 729 Finlayson Arm Rd.

Uplands Park champion to earn provincial award

B.C. Community Award for Margaret Lidkea coincides with Sunday’s volunteer celebration

Sooke volunteers work to save salmon and whales

A half million fish will be released

VIDEO: Killer whales hunt for seals in Vancouver harbour

Bigg’s killer whales feed on marine mammals like seals, sea lions, dolphins and even other whales

VIDEO: B.C.’s waving granny gets incredible send-off from school kids

Tinney Davidson has been waving at students on their way to school for over 11 years, but is moving in a month

Island-born Snowbirds pilot enjoying homecoming in skies over Comox

Logan Reid once stood clinging onto the fence outside the Comox Air… Continue reading

Attack on student in Courtenay ‘way more than bullying’, says mom

A Comox Valley mother said “it was way more than bullying” at… Continue reading

Vancouver man, 19, charged in human trafficking case involving teen girl

The 16-year-old girl was reported missing and later discovered in Vancouver

Blaine, Wash. inn owner, charged with smuggling people into B.C., granted bail

Robert Joseph Boule ordered to turn away anyone indicating a plan to enter Canada illegally

CURATOR’S COLUMN: Dressing up exhibits at the museum

Montana Stanley | Contributed While looking for culture material to supplement the… Continue reading

Most Read