A new study published in the journal PLOS A discovered that mountain top removal – a method of coal mining that clears forests and uses explosives to remove soil and bedrock – poses a much more serious and widespread threat to animal species and endangered humans than previously thought.
By combining 30 years of satellite imagery data mapping large surface mines in the central Appalachians and water quality measurements from more than 4,000 monitoring sites in different watersheds, a team of scientists led by the Defenders of Wildlife’s Center for Conservation Innovation (CCI) has found that mountain top disposal mining is a major contributor to water quality degradation.
“We have been watching the expansion of mountain-top mining in the Appalachian landscape for years using satellite imagery,” said study co-author Christian Thomas, geospatial engineer at Sky truth, a nonprofit environmental tech company that helped with data collection. “By combining our images with data on water quality, we finally revealed how this activity harms sensitive aquatic species.”
Scientists have found that chronic and acute toxicity thresholds for chemicals such as aluminum, copper, lead and manganese, as well as acidity levels in waterways are exceeded thousands of times. even in places relatively far from mines. These areas are home to many threatened and endangered species, including 39 species of molluscs, 12 species of fish and several species of snails and crustaceans.
“More than 50 federally protected species inhabit the waterways of this region, and we have not historically known the full impact of these mines, until now,” said lead author of the study Michael Evans, senior conservation data scientist at CCI. “This research expands the ability of state and federal agencies to make better decisions that directly affect vulnerable people and wildlife.”
“This research really emphasizes the interdependence of ecosystems and how remote human activity can have ripple effects that are not immediately apparent. Being able to assess impacts on a landscape scale opens a whole new door for conservation, ”he added.
This study is an important step forward in improving the protection of species at risk and providing more rigorous scientific standards for mining practices. “While the approved practices for assessing and authorizing the operation of an individual mine can successfully mitigate impacts on immediately surrounding ecosystems, our results demonstrate that a landscape-scale assessment is necessary to fully consider impacts of surface mining on species at risk, ”the authors concluded. .
Through Andrei Ionescu, Terre.com Editor-in-chief