How police are using advanced technology to search for missing persons in Canada

A British Columbia highway is seen from the air in a photo from Shutterstock.com

Advanced technology will be used in the search for missing persons across Canada, including along the West Coast, the RCMP announced last week.

The initiative involves "advancements in satellite and hyperspectral imaging technologies," the RCMP's National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains said in a statement Thursday.

This technology is being used to detect locations where human remains may have been discarded, partially buried or hidden in shallow graves.

The rollout began last Monday, and the first locations to be searched were in British Columbia.

Mounties would not provide specifics of the locations, but said first plane left from Calgary and flew over targeted areas in the province.

The RCMP told CTV News that specific details would not be provided for now to preserve the investigation and "operational intelligence."

The single-engine plane was equipped with hyperspectral imaging technology, which collects and processes information from reflected sunlight.

While human eyes mostly see light in three bands – perceived as red, green and blue – hyperspectral imaging is able to "see" many more of these bands, generating a lot more data than the eye alone.

According to the RCMP, "certain objects leave unique 'fingerprints' in the electromagnetic spectrum."

These objects include characteristics of decomposing bodies, including gases. Hyperspectral imaging can make these characteristics stand out.

"These technologies have the potential to offer new opportunities for law enforcement to use organized, systemic and non-invasive approaches to cover mass stretches of land and gain visual acuity of key areas of interest," RCMP Sgt. Caroline Duval said in an email Friday.

"Some of these search areas lie over large, inhospitable terrain. Searching by air allows us to locate potential areas of interest without disrupting forensic evidence."

Duval didn't provide details on which cases the technology may be used to investigate, but said areas selected for search will be based on specific investigations.

She said some of these will include cases of missing Indigenous women, and that the RCMP has informed and consulted with the B.C. First Nations involved.

Cases chosen will need to have a starting point for the search – a location linked to the person's disappearance – to qualify.

Law enforcement partners across the country have been asked to identify cases for the pilot project.

With files from CTV News Vancouver's Spencer Harwood