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Investigating the drivers of the unprecedented Chernobyl Power Plant Wildfire in April 2020 and its effects on 137Cs dispersal

Newman-Thacker, F and Turnbull, L (2021) 'Investigating the drivers of the unprecedented Chernobyl Power Plant Wildfire in April 2020 and its effects on 137Cs dispersal.', Natural Hazards, 109 (2). pp. 1877-1897.


In this study we explore the conditions that led to the unprecedented wildfire that occurred in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in April 2020 and the effect of this fire on 137Cs dispersal, as wildfires are important drivers of 137Cs re-suspension, with potentially harmful consequences for the receiving ecosystems. We characterised the historical wildfire record between 2000 and 2020 using the MCD64A1.006 MODIS Burned Area Monthly Global 500 m dataset, and assessed the climatic conditions associated with these wildfire events using ERA5-Land reanalysis data. We also examined fire danger indices at the time of these wildfires. We then explored the widespread effects of the April 2020 wildfire on 137Cs re-suspension and subsequent deposition using the NOAA HYSPLIT model, concluding that the impacts of such resuspension on areas further afield were minimal. Results show that climatic conditions leading to severe wildfires are increasing, especially during March and April. High soil-moisture, relative humidity and extreme temperature anomalies are associated with the largest wildfires on record and fire risk indices at the time of the April 2020 fire were higher than for other large fires on record. We have estimated that 3854 GBq of 137Cs re suspended during the CPPF, with atmospheric transport dominant over Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Kazakhstan. The observed increase in large wildfires will have implications for wildfire-driven soil erosion processes, which will further exacerbate the effects of atmospheric-driven 137Cs redistribution.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Date accepted:24 June 2021
Date deposited:24 June 2021
Date of first online publication:03 July 2021
Date first made open access:20 August 2021

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