Impact of communal irrigation on the 2018 Palu earthquake-triggered landslides

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Anthropogenic changes to the environment can enhance earthquake-triggered landslides, yet their role in earthquake disasters is often overlooked. Coseismic 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 28th September 2018 Mw7.5 earthquake. We document fields and buildings translated over 1 km down slopes of less than 2° and show 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)940-945
Number of pages6
JournalNature Geoscience
Publication statusPublished - 27 Sept 2019

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