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article image'Rivers of gold' image show extent of deforestation in Amazon

By Karen Graham     Feb 12, 2021 in Environment
At first glance, the image appears to show rivers of gold running through the Amazon rainforest in Madre de Dios state in eastern Peru - Actually, what you are seeing is hundreds of gold prospecting pits surrounded by de-vegetated areas of muddy soil.
The image was taken by a member of the International Space Station's Expedition 64 crew on December 24, 2020. The water-filled pits are usually hidden from an astronaut’s view by cloud cover or they may be outside the range of the sun's "glint point." But in this particular photo, the pits stand out brilliantly due to the reflected sunlight.
The prospecting pits were likely left behind by garimperos or independent miners. In the image, the Inambari River, with its multiple meandering channels can be seen on the left.
Southern Interoceanic Highway bridge spans the Inambari River.
Southern Interoceanic Highway bridge spans the Inambari River.
Hpup0905 (CC BY-SA 3.0)
On the right side of the photo, you can see the pits surrounded by areas of muddy soil where the rainforest has been ripped up, according to CTV News Canada.
These deforested tracts follow the courses of ancient rivers that deposited sediments, including gold. For scale, the western tract in the middle of the image is 15 kilometers (10 miles) long.
Peru is the sixth-largest producer of gold in the world, and Madre de Dios is home to one of the largest unregistered independent gold mining industries in the world, according to NASA.
Blue-and-yellow Macaws  Scarlet Macaws  Chestnut-fronted Macaws  Mealy Amazons  Blue-headed Parrots ...
Blue-and-yellow Macaws, Scarlet Macaws, Chestnut-fronted Macaws, Mealy Amazons, Blue-headed Parrots and a single Orange-cheeked Parrot at a clay lick at Tambopata National Reserve, in Madre de Dios state, Peru.
Brian Ralphs (CC BY 2.0)
And mining is also the biggest driver of deforestation in the region, and mercury used to extract gold pollutes the waterways, the agency added. Yet tens of thousands of people earn their living from this potentially illegal practice.
The only road connecting Peru with Brazil is the Southern Interoceanic Highway, which opened in 2011. It was meant to boost trade and tourism, but "deforestation may be the larger result of the highway," said NASA, as thousands of Peruvians joined in the modern-day gold rush.
Some areas in Madre de Dios state are protected from mining, such as the Tambopata National Reserve. The state is about the size of South Carolina and is home to macaws and monkeys, jaguars, and butterflies. But how long this pristine state will last is in question today.
More about rivers of gold, Inambari River, gold prospecting, Peruvian Amazon, Deforestation
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