Volume 45, Issue 1 (January 2000)
Ground Penetrating Radar Surveys to Locate 1918 Spanish Flu Victims in Permafrost
The “Spanish Flu” killed over 40 million people worldwide in 1918. Archival records helped us identify seven men who died of influenza in 1918 and were interred in Longyearbyen. Svalbard, Norway, 1300 km from the North Pole. Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) was used successfully, in a high-resolution field survey mode, to locate a large excavation with seven coffins, near the existing seven grave markers. The GPR indicated that the ground was disturbed to 2 m depth and was frozen below 1 m. Subsequent excavation showed that: a) the GPR located the position of the graves accurately, b) the coffins were buried less than 1 m deep, and c) that the frozen ground was 1.2 m deep where the coffins were located. The GPR assisted in planning the exhumation, safely and economically, under the high degree of containment required. Virologic and bacteriologic investigations on recovered tissues may give us an opportunity to isolate and identify the micro-organisms involved in the 1918 influenza and expand our knowledge on the pathogenesis of influenza.