Irrigation-triggered landslides in a Peruvian desert caused by modern intensive farming


Intensification of agriculture leads to stress on the environment and subsequently can have strong societal and ecological impacts. In deserts, areas of very high sensitivity to land-use changes, these local-scale impacts are not well documented. On the arid southwestern coast of Peru, several vast irrigation programmes were developed in the 1950s on the flat detritic plateau surrounding narrow valleys to supply new farming areas. We document the long-term effects of irrigation on the erosion of arid deserts in the Vitor and Siguas valleys, south Peru, using 40 yr of satellite data. We demonstrate that irrigation initiated very large slow-moving landslides, affecting one-third of the valleys. Their kinematics present periods of quiescence and short periods of rapid activity, corresponding to landslide destabilization by their headscarp retrogression. This analysis suggests that the landslide motion continues long after their initiation by irrigations. Those landslides affect the fertile valley floors, leading to the destruction of villages and agricultural areas. We conclude that modern intensive farming can strongly impact traditional agriculture in desert areas where water management is particularly critical.

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Fig. 1: Elevation change between 1978 and 2016 in the Siguas and Vitor valleys in southern Peru.
Fig. 2: Horizontal ground displacement of different landslides over 40 yr (1978–2018).
Fig. 3: Horizontal ground displacement of the Punillo Sur landslide over the 2014–2017 period.

Data availability

The satellite images are available on the earthexplorer ( and Copernicus ( repositories. Landsat-5, Landsat-8 and Sentinel-2 images are available under, and, respectively. Any additional data can be requested by e-mailing the corresponding author.

Code availability

The Ames Stereo Pipeline code for DEM processing is available at The code for processing time series of ground displacement from optical images is available via svn (


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We acknowledge a careful reading of the manuscript by J. Palmer and E. Berthier. This work has been supported by a grant from ESA through the Alcantara project ‘Monitoring and Detection of Landslides from optical Images time-Series’ (ESA 15/P26). We also acknowledge the CNES support through the ISIS programme that provided the SPOT6/7 images.

Author information

P.L. coordinated the study, processed and analysed the image correlation data and the SPOT6/7 DEMs, and wrote the drafts of the manuscript. A.D. processed the KH9 DEM, cross-examined the observations and results, and revised the manuscript. E.T. realized the field measurements and discussed the content of the paper.

Correspondence to Pascal Lacroix.

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Supplementary Figs. 1–18 and Table 1.

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Lacroix, P., Dehecq, A. & Taipe, E. Irrigation-triggered landslides in a Peruvian desert caused by modern intensive farming. Nat. Geosci. 13, 56–60 (2020).

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