Statistical and spatial analyses of both historical time series and remotely sensed data show a link between the spatial distribution and growth of gold production across the Guiana Shield in northeast Amazonia. Results indicate that an exponential rise in production across an expanding area is primarily a delayed response to the 1971−1978 market flotation of international gold prices. The subsequent 10-fold (2-fold) average nominal (real) price increase has provided a compelling economic incentive to mass exploitation of lower-grade gold deposits. The ground-based and remotely sensed distributions of mining activity are strongly attached to these deposits that dominate the region's gold geology. The presence of these gold-bearing formations in conservation and sustainable timber zones has sparked social conflict and environmental degradation across the region. Left unmanaged, more than a quarter-million square-kilometer area of tropical forest zoned for protection and sustainable management could ultimately be compromised by the price-driven boom in gold mining through poorly integrated resource use planning, lack of reclamation effort, and control of illegal operations. Serious public health issues propagated through the unregulated mining environment further erode the financial benefits achieved through gold extraction. This study demonstrates in part how international economic policies successfully stabilizing more conspicuous centers of the global economy can have unintended but profound environmental and social impacts on remote commodity frontiers.
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Vol. 36 • No. 8