We've covered the ecological disaster area called Madre de Dios on many occasions here on the blog and it since we started the issue of the destruction of the Amazon rain forest due to the search for gold has started to get picked up by real media services that reach a wider audience. But I'm happy to say that the world of academia is also starting to care more, with a new paper out today headed by Jennifer Swenson of Duke University putting the spotlight on MDD and its enviro trainwreck that nobody in Peru with any power cares about (they just want the freakin' money).
Here's the link to the paper and here's the abstract to get you in the mood. We applaud Swenson and company for the good job done.
Many factors such as poverty, ineffective institutions and environmental regulations may prevent developing countries from managing how natural resources are extracted to meet a strong market demand. Extraction for some resources has reached such proportions that evidence is measurable from space. We present recent evidence of the global demand for a single commodity and the ecosystem destruction resulting from commodity extraction, recorded by satellites for one of the most biodiverse areas of the world. We find that since 2003, recent mining deforestation in Madre de Dios, Peru is increasing nonlinearly alongside a constant annual rate of increase in international gold price (~18%/yr). We detect that the new pattern of mining deforestation (1915 ha/year, 2006–2009) is outpacing that of nearby settlement deforestation. We show that gold price is linked with exponential increases in Peruvian national mercury imports over time (R2 = 0.93, p = 0.04, 2003–2009). Given the past rates of increase we predict that mercury imports may more than double for 2011 (~500 t/year). Virtually all of Peru's mercury imports are used in artisanal gold mining. Much of the mining increase is unregulated/artisanal in nature, lacking environmental impact analysis or miner education. As a result, large quantities of mercury are being released into the atmosphere, sediments and waterways. Other developing countries endowed with gold deposits are likely experiencing similar environmental destruction in response to recent record high gold prices. The increasing availability of satellite imagery ought to evoke further studies linking economic variables with land use and cover changes on the ground.
There's been a decent media reaction to the Swenson & Co paper too, which you can also check out on this link.