Goldminers in the Amazon Basin


Located in the Amazon rainforest, the region along the Rio Madre de Dios, Peru, has seen a surge in informal and illegal mining activities during the last two decades.

These activities have had devastating consequences, including deforestation, mercury pollution, and habitat destruction, endangering unique wildlife and indigenous communities. The mercury used in the extraction process contaminates rivers and aquatic ecosystems, between 30 and 40 tons of mercury are released to the environment and into the food chain every year. This poses serious health risks to residents and to the environment.  About 80 percent of the local population have enhanced mercury concentrations.

Efforts have been made to combat these issues, with government interventions and sustainable mining initiatives gaining traction. Satellite imagery plays a crucial role in monitoring and assessing the impact of these initiatives, helping to find a balance between economic development, public health, and the preservation of one of the world’s most biodiverse regions. The future of gold mining in Madre de Dios hinges on finding sustainable practices that protect the environment and support local livelihoods.

The satellite images capture the ongoing transformation of lush forests into vast mining pits, revealing the scale of deforestation.


  • Satellite Map:
    • Look at the satellite image map and deselect all layers except the satellite image from 2011 by unticking the respective boxes.
    • Which land cover classes can you identify? Where can you see traces of human activities?
    • Add the satellite image from 2016 and zoom in. Which changes can you identify?
    • Add the satellite image from 2023 and repeat your assessment.
    • While the main changes are related to the mining activities in the region, there are other, natural changes, too – compare e.g. the course of the river near the southern edge of the satellite image.
  • EO Browser:
    • Open the EO Browser.
    • Find the most recent Sentinel-2 dataset covering the area displayed in the satellite map. Is it easy to find (more or less) cloud-free images? Why/why not?
    • Select a true colour visualisation.
    • Can you identify additional, recent changes in the area (check e.g. forests and mining areas)?

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