University involved in Chernobyl investigation looking at the ecological impact of recent wildfires

Categories: School of Science, Engineering and Environment

The University of Salford will be working on a project led by the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH), that  will investigate the impact of this year’s wildfires in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) on wildlife. 

An area of more than 500 km2 within the Ukrainian exclusion zone was affected by severe fires in April this year. The new study led by UKCEH will assess the effect the fires have had on the diversity and abundance of mammals and birds, as well as soil function. It will also assess the impact of the fires on the mobility of radionuclides (or radioactive elements) and the risk posed to firefighters and the general population by the inhalation of contaminated smoke. 

The year-long project, Chernobyl – a Radioactive Ecosystem on Fire (CHAR), is being funded by an Urgency Grant from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), part of UK Research and Innovation. The work will be led by UKCEH radioecologist Professor Nick Beresford, who has been carrying out research in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (CEZ) for nearly 30 years. Professor Mike Wood, Chair in Applied Ecology at The University  of Salford, will be working on the project in addition to researchers from the University of Portsmouth, Belgium and Norway. The fieldwork for the study is being undertaken by Ukrainian collaborators, who will be complying with the national government’s COVID-19 guidelines.

The Chernobyl Exclusion Zone  was created when the area was evacuated following the explosion at a nuclear plant in 1986.  The area was devastated with huge radiological impact on wildlife that was explored in depth 30 years on from the incident. This new study will explore the impact of the recent April wildfires. the worst to hit the area in more than 34 years, and the effect it had on an ecosystem that is still in recovery.

The CHAR project follows the TREE project the largest coordinated study on radiation exposure and effects undertaken within the CEZ. The project was awarded Times Higher Education Research Project of the Year in 2016.

The University’s THINKlab has also been involved in the fascinating research into the CEZ. They recently developed a virtual experience that allowed users to ‘visit’ Chernobyl and learn about the animals who live in the radioactive ‘exclusion zone’ in Ukraine and Belarus. 


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