A global gold rush is decimating South America’s tropical forests – 1680 square kilometers of tropical forest lost in mining sites between 2001 and 2013Posted by Jim at Friday, July 31, 2015
28 July 2015 (Institute of Physics) – A global “gold rush” has led to a significant increase of deforestation in the tropical forests of South America.
This is according to a study published in IOP Publishing’s journal Environmental Research Letters, which has highlighted the growing environmental impact of gold mining in some of the most biologically diverse regions in the tropics.
Researchers from the University of Puerto Rico have shown that between 2001 and 2013, around 1680 km2 of tropical forest was lost in South America as a result of gold mining, which increased from around 377 km2 to 1303km2 since the global economic crisis in 2007.
Furthermore, around 90 percent of this forest loss occurred in just four areas and a large proportion occurred within the vicinity of conservation areas.
Lead author of the research Nora L. Álvarez-Berríos said: “Although the loss of forest due to mining is smaller in extent compared to deforestation caused by other land uses, such as agriculture or grazing areas, deforestation due to mining is occurring in some of the most biologically diverse regions in the tropics. For example, in the Madre de Dios Region in Perú, one hectare of forest can hold up to 300 species of trees.”
Driven by personal consumption and uncertainty in global financial markets, global gold production has increased to meet rising demand, increasing from around 2445 metric tons in 2000 to around 2770 metric tons in 2013.
Increased demand for gold has been paralleled by a dramatic increase in price — the price of gold increased from $250/ounce in 2000 to $1300/ounce in 2013.
This has stimulated new gold mining activities around the world and made it feasible to mine for gold in areas that were not previously profitable for mining, such as deposits underneath tropical forests.
This can lead to extensive forest loss and result in serious environmental and ecological impacts, caused by the removal of vegetation, the set-up of roads and railways for access and the creation of unorganised settlements. [more]
ABSTRACT: The current global gold rush, driven by increasing consumption in developing countries and uncertainty in financial markets, is an increasing threat for tropical ecosystems. Gold mining causes significant alteration to the environment, yet mining is often overlooked in deforestation analyses because it occupies relatively small areas. As a result, we lack a comprehensive assessment of the spatial extent of gold mining impacts on tropical forests. In this study, we provide a regional assessment of gold mining deforestation in the tropical moist forest biome of South America. Specifically, we analyzed the patterns of forest change in gold mining sites between 2001 and 2013, and evaluated the proximity of gold mining deforestation to protected areas (PAs). The forest cover maps were produced using the Land Mapper web application and images from the MODIS satellite MOD13Q1 vegetation indices 250 m product. Annual maps of forest cover were used to model the incremental change in forest in ~1600 potential gold mining sites between 2001–2006 and 2007–2013. Approximately 1680 km2 of tropical moist forest was lost in these mining sites between 2001 and 2013. Deforestation was significantly higher during the 2007–2013 period, and this was associated with the increase in global demand for gold after the international financial crisis. More than 90% of the deforestation occurred in four major hotspots: Guianan moist forest ecoregion (41%), Southwest Amazon moist forest ecoregion (28%), Tapajós–Xingú moist forest ecoregion (11%), and Magdalena Valley montane forest and Magdalena–Urabá moist forest ecoregions (9%). In addition, some of the more active zones of gold mining deforestation occurred inside or within 10 km of ~32 PAs. There is an urgent need to understand the ecological and social impacts of gold mining because it is an important cause of deforestation in the most remote forests in South America, and the impacts, particularly in aquatic systems, spread well beyond the actual mining sites.