Damage control: How the World Bank reformed and Brazil curbs illegal gold

1. United States

A recent study answers a critical question about moon exploration: Where is the water? Scientists examined data from the now-retired Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a partnership of NASA and the German Space Agency, which showed them how water is moving across the moon’s surface.

By tracking water’s unique light signature, researchers have been able to piece together a detailed map of water distribution on the Earth-facing side of the moon’s south pole region.

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In our progress roundup, efforts to protect people who have less power range from Brazil’s ID process for illegally mined gold, to World Bank reforms that acknowledged the voices of people the bank meant to help.

Experts have known for over a decade that water exists on the moon, but the study reveals lunar water in colder, shadier places such as crater rims. Scientists continue working toward understanding where the water comes from.

Henry Romero/AP

Observations from a modified 747SP airliner carrying a reflecting telescope helped scientists map water on the moon.

Humans have not landed on the moon since the 1972 Apollo 17 mission. The VIPER rover will study the moon’s south pole next year, and Artemis III is scheduled to land a four-person team including the first woman and first person of color on the moon in 2025. Understanding lunar water could be critical toward the goal of establishing a long-term presence on the moon.
Sources: The Planetary Science Journal, NASA

2. Brazil

A “gold library” is aiding efforts to crack down on illegal mining in the Amazon. The Ouro Alvo program established a database of gold samples from throughout the 1.2 billion-acre forest. With the samples, experts are able to determine unique characteristics of the metal from different mining regions, which allows authorities to confirm illicit hauls.

For decades, “wildcat” mining has wreaked havoc on the environment and Indigenous people, which was hastened by friendly policies of previous President Jair Bolsonaro. One study estimates half the gold – 229 tons – produced and exported from Brazil between 2015 and 2020 was “of dubious origin.” In northern Brazil’s Yanomami Indigenous territory alone – where no commercial activity is allowed – an estimated 20,000 illegal gold miners are at work. Mining there destroyed 1,782 hectares (4,403 acres) last year, a 54% increase over 2021.

Edmar Barros/AP/File

Illegal dredging barges on a tributary of the Amazon are operated by gold miners, November 2021.

In 2020 the database was used to help Brazilian officers seize 77 pounds of gold – worth around $2 million – from alleged smugglers traveling to New York. To increase transparency in the gold market, experts recommend data sharing across agencies.
Mongabay, Reuters, NBC News