The Return of Nature to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone: Increases in Forest Cover of 1.5 Times since the 1986 Disaster

Matsala, M., Bilous, A., Myroniuk, V., Holiaka, D., Shchepashchenko, D. ORCID:, See, L. ORCID:, & Kraxner, F. (2021). The Return of Nature to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone: Increases in Forest Cover of 1.5 Times since the 1986 Disaster. Forests 12 (8) e1024. 10.3390/f12081024.

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For 34 years since the 1986 nuclear disaster, the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (ChEZ) landscapes have been protected with very limited human interventions. Natural afforestation has largely occurred throughout the abandoned farmlands, while natural disturbance regimes, which dominantly include wildfires, have become more frequent and severe in the last years. Here, we utilize the dense time series of Landsat satellite imagery (1986–2020) processed by using the temporal segmentation algorithm LandTrendr in order to derive a robust land cover and forest mask product for the ChEZ. Additionally, we carried out an analysis of land cover transitions on the former farmlands. The Random Forest classification model developed here has achieved overall accuracies of 80% (using training data for 2017) and 89% on a binary “forest/non-forest” validation (using data from 1988). The total forest cover area within the ChEZ has increased from 41% (in 1986) to 59% (in 2020). This forest gain can be explained by the afforestation that has occurred in abandoned farmlands, which compensates for forest cover losses due to large fire events in 1992, 2015–2016, and 2020. Most transitions from open landscapes to dense forest cover occurred after the year 2000 and are possibly linked to past forest management practices. We conclude that a consistent forest strategy, with the aid of remote monitoring, is required to efficiently manage new forests in the ChEZ in order to retain their ecosystem functions and to ensure sustainable habitats.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Landsat time series; historical satellite images; CORONA; temporal segmentation; abandoned farmlands
Research Programs: Advancing Systems Analysis (ASA)
Advancing Systems Analysis (ASA) > Novel Data Ecosystems for Sustainability (NODES)
Biodiversity and Natural Resources (BNR)
Biodiversity and Natural Resources (BNR) > Agriculture, Forestry, and Ecosystem Services (AFE)
Depositing User: Luke Kirwan
Date Deposited: 02 Aug 2021 08:20
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 17:35

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