Anthropogenic changes to the environment can enhance earthquake-triggered landslides, yet their role in earthquake disasters is often overlooked. Co-seismic landslides frequently involve liquefaction of granular materials, a process that reduces shear strength and facilitates downslope motion even on gentle slopes. Irrigation systems can increase liquefaction susceptibility and compromise otherwise stable slopes. Here we investigate devastating landslides that affected Palu, Indonesia, during the 28 September 2018 earthquake of moment magnitude 7.5. We document fields and buildings translated over 1 km down slopes of <2° and show that landslides were limited to irrigated ground. A liquefied detachment was rooted upslope in a conveyance canal that supplied water to the irrigation network. A strong correlation between landslide displacement, irrigation infrastructure and the highest slopes (≥1.5°) suggests a causative mechanism that should provoke urgent assessment of gently sloping irrigated terrain elsewhere in Sulawesi and in tectonically active areas worldwide.
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Geospatial data generated during this project, including landslide displacement measurements, liquefaction indicators and digitised irrigation infrastructure, are available at https://royalholloway.figshare.com/articles/Geospatial_Data/9205184. The post-earthquake satellite scene is available via Google Earth, at https://www.google.com/earth/download/gep/agree.html, and via DigitalGlobe at https://discover.digitalglobe.com/. Sentinel 2B data can be downloaded from the Copernicus Open Access Hub: https://scihub.copernicus.eu/dhus/#/home. TanDEM-X 90 m data can be downloaded via the German Aerospace Centre: https://geoservice.dlr.de/web/dataguide/tdm90/, and the application page for ~12 m data is https://tandemx-science.dlr.de/cgi-bin/wcm.pl?page = TDM-Proposal-Submission-Procedure.
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We are grateful to the TanDEM-X Science Communication Team (German Aerospace Center (DLR)) for providing the TanDEM-X topographic data.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Watkinson, I.M., Hall, R. Impact of communal irrigation on the 2018 Palu earthquake-triggered landslides. Nat. Geosci. 12, 940–945 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-019-0448-x
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