Damage to Amazon worse than reported: 14-year study of Peru gold mining

Field surveys, airborne mapping, and high resolution satellite imaging from 1999 to 2012 by the Carnegie Institution for Science and the Peruvian ministry of environment reveal damage to Peru's Amazon – mostly from illegal gold mining – far more extensive than what has been reported to date.

The study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, arrives one month after footage from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory was released, showing vast swaths of destroyed rainforest in Peru's Madre de Dios region.

During the 14-year monitoring period, the geographic extent of road- and river-based gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon increased by roughly 400%. When the global economic recession hit in 2008, the annual rate of forest destruction in Madre de Dios tripled.

"Our results reveal far more rainforest damage than previously reported by the government, NGOs, or other researchers," said lead author of the study Gregory Asner.

"In all, we found that the rate of forest loss from gold mining accelerated from 5,350 acres (2,166 hectares) per year before 2008 to15,180 acres (6,145 hectares) each year after the 2008 global financial crisis that rocketed gold prices."

Study results also indicate that more than half of all gold mining activity in the region is carried out by small, clandestine operations.

The study also claims that gold mining is growing much more rapidly than previously thought, requiring more widespread use of high-resolution monitoring techniques in order to properly quantify human impacts on the environment.

Areas along the Madre De Dios river damaged by small, clandestine gold miners between 1999 and 2012. Credit: CLASlite Team