Artisanal and small-scale gold mining, meandering tropical rivers, and geological heritage: Evidence from Brazil and Indonesia

Sci Total Environ. 2020 May 1;715:136907. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.136907. Epub 2020 Jan 23.


Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) flourishes along many tropical rivers, and it still requires proper documentation in many countries, as well as interpretation in terms of rational resource exploitation and wildlife preservation. In this study we used remote sensing techniques to analyze two representative examples of ASGM: one along the Marupa River in Brazil (Tapajós Domain) and another one along the Kahayan River in Indonesia (Central Kalimantan). The documented spatial extent of ASGM is ~9175 km2 along the Marupa River and ~30,427 km2 along the Kahayan River. It was established these activities change rapidly (2-3 years) in space. Although active and inactive sites occur in both areas, a great number of inactive sites distinguish the Marupa River. It is very crucial that ASGM along the Marupa and Kahayan rivers link strongly to watercourse meanders, but also changes river valley morphology. This is an interesting evidence of coupled fluvial-anthropic morphodynamics of meandering river valleys. Geological phenomena represented in the study areas include gold resource exploitation (economic phenomenon), landforms and their dynamics (geomorphological phenomenon), and mercury environmental pollution (geochemical phenomenon). Due to remarkable spatial extent and evident interconnection, these phenomena seem to be unique and, thus, constituting geological heritage. Identification of the latter means that ASGM sites add value to the local environment. A paradox is that illegal and mercury-releasing ASGM needs termination, but such an action will result in the loss of the noted geological heritage value. Solution to this paradox requires careful development of plans for local management. However, it is clear that the presence of the noted heritage requires turning more attention to ASGM and their natural (river valley) context.

Keywords: Fluvial dynamics; Gold resources; Kahayan River basin; Mercury pollution; Remote sensing; Tapajós River basin.