Inverse modelling-based reconstruction of the Chernobyl source term available for long-range transport
Abstract. The reconstruction of the Chernobyl accident source term has been previously carried out using core inventories, but also back and forth confrontations between model simulations and activity concentration or deposited activity measurements. The approach presented in this paper is based on inverse modelling techniques. It relies both on the activity concentration measurements and on the adjoint of a chemistry-transport model. The location of the release is assumed to be known, and one is looking for a source term available for long-range transport that depends both on time and altitude. The method relies on the maximum entropy on the mean principle and exploits source positivity. The inversion results are mainly sensitive to two tuning parameters, a mass scale and the scale of the prior errors in the inversion. To overcome this hardship, we resort to the statistical L-curve method to estimate balanced values for these two parameters. Once this is done, many of the retrieved features of the source are robust within a reasonable range of parameter values. Our results favour the acknowledged three-step scenario, with a strong initial release (26 to 27 April), followed by a weak emission period of four days (28 April–1 May) and again a release, longer but less intense than the initial one (2 May–6 May). The retrieved quantities of iodine-131, caesium-134 and caesium-137 that have been released are in good agreement with the latest reported estimations. Yet, a stronger apportionment of the total released activity is ascribed to the first period and less to the third one. Finer chronological details are obtained, such as a sequence of eruptive episodes in the first two days, likely related to the modulation of the boundary layer diurnal cycle. In addition, the first two-day release surges are found to have effectively reached an altitude up to the top of the domain (5000 m).