A fantastic day in Chernobyl, with some lab work in the morning and the entire afternoon sampling environmental microbiome in the left bank of the Prypiat river.

Left to right: Germán Orizaola, Sergey Gaschak and Pablo Burraco at Vershyna lake, Chernobyl.

We started our day in the lab, measuring and sampling the fire-bellied toads and the Pelophylax waterfrogs that we collected the previous night at the pond near Chernobyl city. That was a quick and easy job, so we were finished by noon. We had time to prepare all the material for going sampling environmental microbiome during the afternoon, and for a quick lunch in the lab.

After lunch, we moved to the Eastern side of the Exclusion Zone in order to collected samples for a study of the factors that affect the diversity and composition of the microbes that live in the water bodies of Chernobyl. This study will cover not only these places in which we have collected amphibians the previous years, but also some additional localities, so we can have a good idea of the effects that radiation and other environmental factors have on the microbiome of these places.

We drove through the ditch that goes south to north of this place almost to the border with Belarus. Our first locality was one we visited the last day of sampling in 2017, a beautiful set of ponds with plenty of water iris in full bloom. I am used to visit all these places during night or late afternoon, so going there in full daylight was a fantastic experience. This is an area that maintains in general mid to high radiation levels, but also a beautiful landscape mixing marshes, water channels, and forest.

We sampled a total of six localities in this area. Sergey was on charge of assessing radiation levels and collect pond sediment samples, Pablo measured different water parameters (pH, temperature, conductivity, disolved material), and I was in charge of going around with the swabs and vials to collect the microbiome samples. We did this at three different points on each locality to have a good representation of the microbes of each place. We were fast, it was all pretty well organized!!

Among the places we sampled were the Hluboke and Vershyna lakes two places with very high radiation levels. At Hluboke we took some of the samples in an area with radiation levels of 150 microSv/h. Just to remember, normal (background) radiation levels are on around 0.2 microSv/h. So, yes pretty high radiation levels. Anyway, while sampling this place we were surrounded by black terns, a pair of mute swans, and the songs of cuckoos, reed warblers and many more birds.

Hluboke lake, Chernobyl.

Vershyna lake, where we collected treefrogs last year, is other place with high radiation levels (around 25 microSv/h), and a rather difficult access, driving off-road through forest and meadows. It was remarkable to see in this place the advance of the forest, with plenty of young oaks and birches just one meter tall growing in old meadows. Changing landscape in front of our eyes.

Vershyna lake, Chernobyl.

After quite some intense work, we sampled six localities in this area, a very good start for this new project. So, it was time for dinner in the field. Thanks to Sergey, we organized our picnic table and chairs and add a wonderful dinner in the middle of Chernobyl to finish the day.

It was also a nice day for spotting wildlife. On our driver through the left bank we saw among the mammals: a big wild boar, roe deer, a red squirrel, hares, and at one place dung with the look of a big cow, maybe from an European bison? Among the birds, we saw black stork, black grouse, honey buzzard, swans, black terns, golden orioles, cuckoos, reed warblers … and more.

Today, we will took some quick photos of the treefrogs to finish our coloration experiment, and off for a full day in the field. The first two stops, at the Azbuchyn lake and Chernobyl pond to release all the collected frogs, and sample environmental microbiome. Then, we will drive all across the central and south areas of the Exclusion Zone for more microbiome sampling. Let’s see if we can sample 10-12 more localities. Today again, it will be time for lunch and dinner “al fresco”. This will be also our last full day at the Exclusion Zone, since on Friday we will move outside he Zone, to Slavutych, to sample in clean, uncontaminated localities.

More tomorrow. Thanks for following our Chernobyl histories!!