Treasure hunter who hopes to find Bin Laden's body faces uphill battle

Eccentric treasure hunter Bill Warren intends to find the body of Osama Bin Laden in the North Arabian Sea using sonar and a remotely operated vehicle. If he finds the remains, he’ll photograph them to confirm Bin Laden’s death to the world. Can you find a human body in the ocean using sonar?
Almost certainly not. Active sonar devices bounce sound waves off whatever objects may lie in their path, then generate images based on how long it takes the waves to return. Soft objects like a human body are difficult to see in these sonar-generated pictures, because sound waves don’t bounce off of them very well. A body won’t look very different from sand on the sea floor. The technique is much more useful on hard objects, like anchors, cannons, or gold bars. More importantly, unless Mr. Warren has insider information about precisely where U.S. forces deposited Bin Laden’s body, the Arabian Sea is far too vast to be scanned in a reasonable time frame. Just like the human eye, a sonar device has to get very close to see small objects clearly. …

Bonus Explainer: If Warren defies all odds and finds Bin Laden’s body, will it be recognizable in a photograph? This turns out to be a difficult question. Forensic anthropology research on body decomposition rates has focused more on shallow terrestrial graves and car trunks than seawater, so there isn’t much to go on. The little research that has been done suggests the current state of Bin Laden’s body depends on where it landed. If it’s in an area with few scavengers, low temperatures, and a limited supply of dissolved oxygen, the decomposition process may have barely begun, and the body could be easily recognizable. Generally speaking, these conditions are more likely in deeper parts of the water, where higher pressures also prevent bloat—but that rule isn’t iron-clad.

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