THE VIEW OUT THE WINDOW WAS BAD ENOUGH. As his research plane flew over groves of California’s giant sequoias, some of the world’s tallest trees, Greg Asner could see the toll the state’s four-year drought had taken. “It looked wicked dry down there,” he said. But when he turned from the window to the video display in his flying lab, the view was even more alarming. In places, the forest was bright red. “It was showing shocking levels of stress,” he said.
This multicoloured laser image is the Tambopata River in Peru: the winding black line represents the waterway now; the surrounding squiggles are historical tracks left by ancient rivers – some 5,000 years old.
For more than a century, the Amazon Basin has undergone boom and bust cycles with gold miners, leading to enormous ecological damage still observable in regions like eastern Brazil. In this century, however, hotspots of gold mining have emerged in the western Amazon lowlands, in places such as Peru, which harbors the highest biodiversity forests on Earth.
Illegal miners have invaded an indigenous reserve in the Peruvian Amazon, reveals new analysis of satellite imagery. Gold mining in the region is extensive. Research published by Greg Asner of the Carnegie Institution for Science found that the extent of mining in Peru’s Madre de Dios expanded from less than 10,000 hectares in 1999 to more than 50,000 ha as of September 2012. Rising gold prices combined with increased access to the region fueled the increase.
Researchers are racing to determine whether forests will continue to act as a brake on climate change by soaking up more carbon, and CAO is playing a pivotal role.
From the air, the Amazon forest may just seem like a big swath of green, one tree much like the next. But look closely, and it’s a lot more complicated than that.