|One of the benefits of rainforests in the environment is that it prevents floods. / Photo by: Getty Images|
Rainforests are one of the most biodiverse and richest ecosystems on earth. Some of the world's most gigantic trees, a huge variety of mammals, colorful birds, and reptiles can be found here. They are very wet places because they receive more than 200 cm rainfall per year. Some of these tropical rainforests are located in areas such as Asia, Africa, Australia, and Central America.
Additionally, rainforests are recognized as "the lungs of the Earth" because of the high amount of photosynthesis occurring in them. However, the destruction of human activities continues to weaken these forests. Not only does it negatively impact millions of species living here, but extreme effects can also be seen in humans and our planet.
Status of the World's Rainforests
There are a number of benefits to having rainforests in our planet. They can store at least 250 billion tons of carbon that help prevent the world's temperature from rising. According to Rainforests Mongabay, rainforests also offer significant ecological services such as stabilizing soils, buffering against flood and drought, influencing rainfall patterns, and giving home to millions of wildlife species and indigenous people.
Rainforests also produce 40% of the planet's oxygen. About two-thirds of the world's plant species grow in rainforests because it's an ideal environment for them to live in. Previous researchers have found chemicals in rainforests that are useful in developing medicine. For the past decades, humans have ventured into rainforests in search of plants that can be used in cosmetics, medicine, and food. About 70% of anti-cancer plans are developed through rainforest plants, according to a report from The National Cancer Institute. In fact, Calanolide A, a new drug under development that can possibly treat HIV came from a tree discovered in Borneo.
Moreover, rainforests have the ability to stabilize the world's climate. Too much carbon dioxide produced by human activity is contributing to climate change and rainforests can help mitigate it. Also, it can protect life forms from drought, flood, and erosion. Through slowing run-off and contributing moisture to the local atmosphere, flood and drought cycles are moderated.
However, rainforests are continuously being destroyed by humankind. In fact, from having over 14% of the earth covered by rainforests, that number has gone down to 6%. The dominant driving factor of the loss of rainforests across the globe is industrial agriculture, especially livestock production and monoculture. Deforestation has also affected the existence of rainforests.
Environmentalists fear long-term consequences because of several threats. According to National Geographic, cutting and burning trees for power plants and other industries for the generation of electricity is detrimental to the rainforests. Agricultural activities clear forests for cropland. Even mining operations are harmful to the rainforests.
Mining Operations as an Amazon Threat
Mining operations across the globe are becoming more and more in demand. This is despite the destruction by natural disasters caused by this kind of activity. A study from the researchers of the University of Vermont titled "New Amazon threat? Deforestation from mining: Surprising amount of rainforest loss occurs on -- and off -- mining leases" demonstrated that a huge amount of rainforest loss is being recorded because of mining.
The researchers found that about 10% of all Amazon deforestation between 2005 to 2015 are caused by mining. In Brazil, 90% of mining-induced deforestation happened outside the mining leases granted by the government.
The findings were derived from data about landscape changes around the Amazon's 50 largest active mines. The researchers used Brazil's Space Agency's (INPE) deforestation data recorded over the past 10 years.
|Destruction of rainforests occurs because of human activities like mining. / Photo by: Elena Larina via 123rf|
Rainforest Destruction Caused by Gold Mining
Mining operations have affected not only the Amazon but several rainforests the world over. Science Daily recently reported that more than 170,000 acres of primary rainforest in the Peruvian Amazon have been destroyed by small-scale gold mining, which took place throughout the past five years.
According to a new analysis conducted by scientists at Wake Forest University's Center for Amazonian Scientific Innovation (CINCIA), the affected area is larger than San Francisco by 30%. These scientists have developed a new data fusion method, which identifies areas destroyed by small-scale mining. This method 20 to 25% more accurate than previous tools.
The study also revealed that although artisanal-scale gold mining has been difficult to detect, their impact on the environment has been extensive. Miners would suck up river sediment or strip the land of trees and use toxic mercury to get the gold. Additionally, this type of mining began during the early 2000s in the Peruvian Amazon along with the construction of the Interoceanic Highway. This modern highway made Peru's once remote rainforest and protected lands accessible to anyone.
Artisanal-scale gold mining has been able to provide job opportunities to poor workers, because it requires no heavy machinery and involves minimal outlay. Researchers are now trying to utilize the new tool in identifying deforestation caused by this kind of mining and immediately address the damage. Luis Fernandez, executive director of CINCIA said, "We want to integrate high-quality scientific research into the processes the government is using for environmental conservation in Madre de Dios. If they can institutionalize these technological innovations, they can more reliably address threats to the rainforest. You have to respond quickly and you have to respond effectively."