Today we sampled environmental microbiome all around Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. We managed to visit and sample ten more localities, for a total of sixteen in two days. Exhausting, but amazing day.

First thing we did was to photograph again the treefrogs in our coloration experiment to measure their color variation over a 48-hour period. Then, we prepare all the amphibians for their release in the original localities, and went off to the road

We went first to the Chernobyl pond, where we released all the Pelophylax and fire-bellied toads collected on day 3. This was also our first locality for the day for environmental microbiome sampling, so we collect water, sediment and soil samples, together with information on radiation levels and water characteristics.

Then, we encountered something unexpected. The internal check point that gives access to the nuclear power plant and Prypiat was closed. No information about why (possible military exercises), or when it will be open again, and a line of ten cars and trucks. We were in our way to the power plant and Azbuchyn lake, so in order to not waist time, we changed plans. We moved a long way to the southwestern side of the Exclusion Zone, to the locality we sampled first in 2017 (our locality 7).

Locality 7, Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

We collected all our samples there, and had lunch on site, in our “cozy” picnic chairs and table. After this moment of relax, we started a non-stop, 8-hour drive across all corners of the western side of the Exclusion Zone, collecting environmental microbiome samples everywhere.

After visiting old localities in which we have collected treefrogs since 2016 (numbers like 8, 16…), and some that we visited but without catching frogs, we finally arrived to Azbuchyn lake at around 7PM. We have always visited this place during the night. This is the very first locality where I started catching treefrogs in Chernobyl back in May 2016. I called that first blog entry “At the shadow of Reactor 4” or something similar. This time, it was possible to see how close is the reactor (with the new confinement building).Pretty. close. Radiation levels here were also pretty high, around 20 microSv/h in the water and much more in the soil.

Azbuchyn lake, with the reactor 4 in the background, Chernobyl

When we finished this locality (already eight for the day) light was going down fast, and we were really tired. So we needed to choose if going for one more nearby, two more far away, or call it the day and stop. As you can image, it took us a couple of seconds to decide to go for two more!! So, we drove all the way from the power plant to the south of the Exclusion Zone, around the Uzh River, for localities 5 and 6, the last two sampled in 2016, and the last two we sampled this time for environmental microbiome.

So, we finished a 11-hour drive through the Zone, about 180 kilometers of small and bumpy roads, with ten amazing localities sampled for our study of the factors that affect the diversity and composition of the microbes that live in aquatic areas of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

This was our last day in the Zone for this trip. Tomorrow, it will be time in the morning for packing everything, pass the radiation control at the exit check point (ourselves, our equipment, and the car), and move out of the Exclusion Zone, towards Slavutych. This is the city where the Chornobyl Research Centre has it’s central offices and labs, and a place we visited already last year. This will be the second part of our work in Ukraine, now in clean, non-contaminated areas, not affected by the nuclear accident. The goals, many, again. First, to catch a few Pelophylax frogs and fire-bellied toads for the genomic analyses, in order to compare this individuals from clean localities with the ones from Chernobyl 2019 and 1987-1990. We will also collect environmental microbiome samples, to have references from uncontaminated locations. And finally, we will try to capture treefrogs (Hyla orientalis) in new localities in order to expand our study on coloration. Let’s see how it goes!!

Yesterday, we drive quite fast from place to place, and was a rather warm day, so we didn’t saw much wildlife. Anyway, we encountered one young Przewalski horse, red and roe deer, hare, and many birds including black woodpecker (new for the year).

By the way, when I arrived to the hotel, tired and dirty, I found that my article published a month ago at The Conversation (Spanish and English versions) had reached one million reads (1,000,000!!). This is amazing, mind blowing, and a perfect way (together with a warm shower) to finish the day. Let’s see what happens today, slightly cloudy and fresh, so not perfect for warm-loving frogs, but will see.

Have a good day!!