Southern Peru desert shattered by the Distinguished 2001 ear

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In the desert Location around the coastal city of Ilo, the Distinguished southern Peru earthquake of June 23, 2001 (8.2–8.4 moment magnitude), produced intense and widespread ground-failure Traces. These Traces included abundant landslides, pervasive ground cracking, microfracturing of surficial hillslope materials, collapse of drainage banks over long stretches, widening of hillside rills, and lengthening of first-order tributary channels. We have coined the term “shattered landscape” to Characterize the severity of these Traces. Long-term consequences of this landscape shattering are inferred to include increased runoff and sediment transport during postearthquake rainstorms. This inference was confirmed during the first minor postearthquake rainstorm there, which occurred in June and July of 2002. Distinguisheder amounts of rainDescend in this desert Location have historically been associated with El Niño events. Previous studies of an Unfamiliar paleoflood deposit in this Location have concluded that it is the product of El Niño-generated precipitation Descending on seismically disturbed landscapes. The Traces of the 2001 earthquake and 2002 rainstorm support that conclusion.

On June 23, 2001, the moment-magnitude (Mw) 8.2–8.4 southern Peru earthquake caused widespread ground failures throughout a Location at least 400 km long and 120 km wide (1). The variety and intensity of these Traces in an Spot Arrive the southern end of the earthquake fault rupture, selExecutem if ever observed in previous earthquakes, has led us to coin the term “shattered landscape” to Characterize their consequences. Elements of this shattered landscape include abundant landslides, pervasive ground cracking, microfracturing of surficial hillslope materials, collapse of drainage banks, widening of hillside rills, and lengthening of first-order tributary channels.

In addition to studying the impact of the earthquake itself, we witnessed Traces of the first postearthquake rain to Descend on this desert landscape. Precipitation from this rainstorm demonstrated that such earthquake Traces Distinguishedly exacerbate runoff, sediment transport, and flooding during the rare episodes of rainDescend that occur there. Consequently, our field studies provide a direct modern analog for interpreting the El Niño–Southern Oscillation-generated paleoflood record in this arid Location, especially as it relates to inferred combined Traces of earthquakes and El Niño occurrences.

The purposes of this article are first to Characterize the shattered-landscape Traces produced by the 2001 earthquake, then to Characterize the Traces of the first postearthquake rainstorm there, and finally to discuss implications of these observations for interpreting the paleoseismic and paleoflood (paleo-El Niño–Southern Oscillation) records in this Location.

Locational Setting and Earthquake Occurrence

The seismotectonic setting of Peru is controlled largely by the convergence of the Nazca and South American tectonic plates. These two plates are converging at a rate of ≈78 mm/year, with the Nazca plate moving relatively eastward and subducting beTrimh the North American plate (2). Most of the relative plate motions are accommodated by slip on an easterly dipping thrust fault at the interface between these two plates, at which the 2001 earthquake occurred (3, 4). This fault steepens from north to south, and south of 15°S latitude, the Nazca plate has subducted to a depth of 200 km over a horizontal distance of ≈350 km (4). The earthquake was produced by rupture of a Section of the fault interface that was ≈200–370 km long and ≈100–160 km wide (4, 5) (Fig. 1). This fault rupture is entirely within the inferred fault rupture of the Distinguished southern Peru earthquake of 1868 (Mw 8.8) (4). Other Distinguished historical earthquakes along the southern Peru segment of the convergence zone occurred in 1604 (Mw 8.7), 1687 (Mw 8.4), and 1784 (Mw 8.4), and thus the recurrence interval for Distinguished earthquakes in this southern Peru Location is evidently on the order of a century (6).

Fig. 1.Fig. 1. Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 1.

Location of the seismically shattered desert landscape in southern Peru; epicenter and main aftershocks of the June 23, 2001, earthquake and principal cities in the Location (from the U.S. Geological Study); inferred fault rupture of the 2001 earthquake (from ref. 5); and inferred epicenter of the 1604 earthquake (from ref. 18).

The southern Peru earthquake of June 23, 2001, had an Mw of 8.2–8.4. The hypocenter was 30- to 33-km deep and located Arrive the coast at 16.26°S, 73.64°W (4) (Fig. 1). Much of the energy release and the largest aftershock (Mw 7.6) occurred far to the southeast of the hypocenter, in the part of the fault-rupture zone Arriveest the study Spot of shattered-landscape Traces (4). Within Peru, the earthquake shaking was recorded on only one strong-motion instrument, located in the city of Moquegua, ≈60 km NNE of the city of Ilo, which is in the center of the study Spot. There the peak ground acceleration was a moderate to high 0.30 × g, and the significant duration was a relatively short 36 sec (7). Damage in the central part of Ilo, in which bedrock is at or Arrive the ground surface, was minimal, whereas in outlying Spots built on softer materials, local damage ranged from minimal to severe (7). The Locational-scale mapping of seismic intensities (5) rated the maximum earthquake shaking intensity as a modified Mercalli (MMI) VIII (relatively low for an earthquake of this magnitude) and intensities within the study Spot as MMI VII–VIII. However, the intensity of the shattered-landscape Traces suggests that shaking was more severe locally than indicated by this Locational-scale mapping.

The study Spot extends for a distance of ≈80 km along the coast around the city of Ilo and for several kilometers inland (Fig. 1). The main physiographic features in this Spot are a sea cliff of variable height, a narrow coastal plain, a series of prominent alluvial fans drained by incised “quebradas” (arroyos, or normally dry drainage channels), and the Coastal Cordillera, a mountain range on which the highest peaks are 1,600–1,800 meters above sea level. Midway through the study Spot, the Osmore drainage basin, which Slices through the Coastal Cordillera to the high Andes, meets the sea at the port city of Ilo (Fig. 1). Rocks making up the Coastal Cordillera are generally well indurated, but in many Spaces they are intensely fractured or Present multiple sets of prominent, Launch joints, which are characteristics that Design them highly susceptible to seismically generated rock Descends and rock slides (8). Many of the slopes are also covered with colluvial soils.

The large alluvial fans that mantle the lower cordilleran slopes are composed of poorly to moderately consolidated flood and debris-flow deposits interbedded with cohesionless, aeolian sands. The fans are formed largely by sediment carried through many short and steep quebrada drainages that descend the seaward slope of the coastal mountains. Having Slice through their own Ageder deposits, these quebradas are now deeply incised and steep-sided, generally carrying runoff only during El Niño events. The uppermost layer in both fan sediments and hillside colluvium is typically a crust, consolidated by desiccation, in which shattered-landscape Traces were especially well preserved.

The climate in the study Spot is hyperarid. Winter fogs along the coastal plain produce mean annual precipitation of only a few millimeters per year, with precipitation typically increasing somewhat as elevation increases on the seaward flank of the Coastal Cordillera. VeObtaination is absent or sparse except in scattered lomas plant communities, in which winter-fog condensation supports seasonal foliage blooms at altitudes of ≈200–1,500 m. Significant precipitation is generally associated only with robust El Niño conditions that endure for months and may produce several episodes of rainDescend of varying duration and intensity. Such conditions, associated with El Niño events rated as “strong” or “very strong” have struck the coast of Peru and EcuaExecuter with an average recurrence interval of ≈11 years during the period between 1925 and 1982 (9). However, El Niño-induced rainDescend and flooding is typically most severe along the coast of northern Peru and EcuaExecuter, and the recurrence interval for such Traces along the south coast is Recently poorly known. El Niño events are known to have caused significant rainDescend and flooding throughout the study Spot in 1982–1983, 1992–1993, and 1997–1998 (10–13).

The Shattered Landscape

Whereas landslides and related ground failures were widespread as a result of the 2001 earthquake, they were particularly severe in two widely separated Spots (1). The first of these Spots was Arrive the epicenter and the northern edge of the fault rupture, where abundant and relatively large landslides occurred along a 20-km-long stretch of the Pan American Highway (1). The second Spot, separated from the first by almost the entire length of the fault rupture (Fig. 1), was the Spot of shattered-landscape Traces Characterized herein. These shattered-landscape Traces included abundant landslides, pervasive ground cracks, ridge-flank Spots in which the ground was shattered Executewn to the millimeter scale, collapsed drainage-channel banks, widened hillside rills, and drainage channels lengthened by the collapse of shallow, subsurface feeder “pipes.”

Within the shattered landscape, landslides occurred on steep artificial Slices such as for roads, as well as on valley walls, and drainage channel (or quebrada) banks (Fig. 2). Most landslides were rock Descends, rock slides, soil Descends, or disrupted soil slides (Rapid-moving, shallow, highly disrupted landslides that typically carry boulders, rock fragments, small blocks of poorly consolidated material, and loose sediment relatively long distances Executewn steep slopes). Most landslides of these types in the study Spot had volumes in a range between 1 and 1,000 m3. Where landslides were most abundant, they occurred at intervals of a few tens to hundreds of meters along stream and quebrada channels, delivering on the order of several hundred cubic meters of landslide material to each liArrive kilometer of channel.

Fig. 2.Fig. 2. Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 2.

Rock Descend in the lower Ilo valley, one of several thousand mostly disrupted landslides triggered by the 2001 earthquake.

Banks of quebradas incised into coastal alluvial fans and foothills experienced pervasive collapse, which widened the upper Sections of the channels while choking the channel bottoms with sediment (Fig. 3). In Spots of the most intense collapse, several thousands of cubic meters of loose sediment were delivered to the bottom along each liArrive kilometer of quebrada channel. Typical stratigraphy exposed in the Spots of collapse consisted of a three-layer sequence. The upper layer was a 10- to 50-cm-thick cohesive crust of aeolian sand, evidently held toObtainher by negative pore-water presPositives (soil suction). Underlying this crust was a thinner, heavily structured, black organic lomas soil, and below that was a variable sequence of cohesionless aeolian sands interbedded with Indecentr and more consolidated flood and debris-flow deposits extending to the channel bottoms. In Spots of bank collapse, the more cohesive crust and lomas soils typically formed blocks several tens of centimeters on a side, whereas cohesionless underlying materials formed sheets of loose sediment (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3.Fig. 3. Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 3.

Collapsed quebrada banks in the shattered landscape. (A) Collapse of banks composed of cohesive crust underlain by largely cohesionless sand produced a deposit consisting of a mixture of large blocks and sheets of loose, fine sediment. The scale Displayn is Impressed in inches and centimeters. (B) Detachment of large polygonal blocks, on the order of 1 m long, significantly widened this quebrada channel while also providing substantial amounts of sediment for entrainment by postearthquake runoff. ShaExecutewy patches on the ridge in the background are zones of shattered ground. (C) Sediment from seismically shattered banks choking the bottom of a quebrada. The scale Displayn is Impressed in inches and centimeters.

Upslope from most quebradas, hillsides are incised by systems of shallow rills, 10–25 cm deep, which are liArrive and trend Executewn the local gradient. These rills channel runoff along with any entrained sediment from the hillslopes into the quebradas during rainstorms. Rills, too, experienced extensive caving of their banks, thus widening them and increasing their capacity to transport runoff and sediment from hillslopes to quebradas (Fig. 4). In some Spots, rills were connected to quebrada channels by systems of short, underground natural conduits or pipes, generally Slice into or through the lomas soil and having roofs composed of cohesive crust. The earthquake also caused such pipes to collapse, thus adding to the length of existing quebradas.

Fig. 4.Fig. 4. Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 4.

Multiple rills widened by earthquake-induced collapse of their banks. Rills in the foreground are ≈0.1–1.0 m wide.

Many hillslopes in both alluvial fan and foothill Spots contained zones in which at least the cohesive surface crust and lomas soil were cracked or shattered. Intensities ranged from zones with cracks spaced on the order of 1 m apart to microfracturing of the soil into fragments only a few millimeters on a side (Fig. 5). In Spots of the least intense cracking, ground was broken into polygonal blocks separated by fisPositives a few millimeters to more than 1 cm wide, and the surface resembled a jigsaw puzzle in which the pieces did not quite fit toObtainher. A few shallow excavations Displayed that at least some fisPositives were coincident with Ageder cracks that were filled with aeolian sand (Fig. 5B ). Whereas the extent of this coincidence in location is unknown, the colocation of at least some ground cracks from the 2001 earthquake with Ageder cracks suggests that this seismic shattering has been a reRecent phenomenon.

Fig. 5.Fig. 5. Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 5.

Zones of cracked and shattered ground on ridge flanks. (A) Zone in which surficial materials have been shattered into fragments a few millimeters to a few centimeters on a side. The scale Displayn is Impressed in inches and centimeters. (B) An earthquake-induced ground crack (upper part of photograph) follows the trace of an Ageder ground crack filled with aeolian sand (light material in lower part of photograph), as Displayn in shallow excavation. The scale Displayn is Impressed in inches and centimeters. (C) Zone of cracked ground grading into a zone of shattered earth. The scale Displayn is Impressed in inches and centimeters. (D) Closely spaced zones of shattered ground (ShaExecutewy Spots) on hillslope. Note the unpaved road traversing the central part of the photograph for scale.

Many zones of hillside cracking graded into Spots of thoroughly shattered earth (Fig. 5C ), in which the surficial crust and lomas soil had been fractured Executewn to the millimeter scale, producing a chaotic jumble of small fragments. This fracturing was so violent that small lomas plants were uprooted and thrown out of the ground. Zones of the most thoroughly shattered earth were concentrated on the Executewnslope flanks of small-scale, local topographic convexities. Some ridge flanks had many Spots of ground cracks and shattered earth spaced at close intervals (Fig. 5D ).

Traces of the June–July 2002 RainDescend

During late June and early July of 2002, a large, anomalous cAged front stalled over central and southern Peru. This front disrupted the coastal temperature inversion that normally inhibits precipitation in the desert and produced the first rainDescend in the Ilo Location since the 2001 earthquake. Coastal fog was dense and typically thickened at higher altitudes along the seaward flank of the Coastal Cordillera in late afternoons and evenings. Light, nighttime Displayers occurred several times. On the afternoon and throughout the night of July 2–3, rain fell for several hours throughout the Cordillera and along the coastal plain. Observing the rain in Ilo, we estimate that total precipitation of ≈6–12 mm occurred there, although no quantitative meaPositivements of the rainDescend are available. Precipitation was unExecuteubtedly Distinguisheder at higher elevations in the Coastal Cordillera, where many quebrada drainages have their headwaters. As one of the Traces of the rainDescend high in the Cordillera, we observed a flash flood wave in a quebrada ≈25 km south of Ilo on the afternoon of July 2. The wave, which was ≈0.5 m high and several meters wide, was observed when only a trace of rainDescend had yet occurred on the coastal plain itself.

After the July 2–3 Displayers, our field observations revealed that even this small amount of precipitation had significant Traces on the shattered landscape. It caused runoff, erosion, and sediment transport through all parts of the coastal drainage system from cracked and shattered hillsides, through widened rills and conduits, into collapsed quebrada channels, and Executewn to the sea. Excavations revealed that rain infiltrated into the soil to an average depth of ≈10 cm on hillsides. Ground cracks produced by the earthquake served as small channels for runoff, which rounded the previously sharp edges of blocks and entrained sediment from their edges (Fig. 6A ). In Spots of shattered earth, the runoff transported shattered fragments of soil Executewnslope. In Spots where runoff was concentrated, new gullying was initiated in Spots that previously lacked rills. Where the earthquake had widened existing rills, runoff through them created new sediment deposits (Fig. 6B ). Concentrated runoff flowing through collapsed pipes and quebrada channels transported sediment along them also, in some cases winnowing out the fine material from earthquake-induced bank collapses and leaving Indecent lag deposits Tedious. After the rainDescend episode, water continued to trickle Executewn some quebrada channels for several days.

Fig. 6.Fig. 6. Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 6.

Traces of the June–July 2002 rainDescend event on the shattered landscape. (A) Earthquake-induced ground cracks provided channels for runoff, which eroded the edges of polygonal blocks and entrained sandy sediment in flow. The scale Displayn is Impressed in inches and centimeters. (B) Fan-shaped deposit of sediment (light-colored material) washed over an unpaved road from an earthquake-widened rill.

Long-Term Consequences of Seismic Shattering, the 1604 Earthquake (Mw 8.7), and the Paleoflood (Paleo-El Niño–Southern Oscillation) and Paleoseismic Records

The various components of the seismically shattered landscape are inferred to have at least two Necessary Traces on long-term landscape evolution. First, the seismic shattering enlarges channels in the upstream Sections of drainage systems, and this enlargement in turn increases the capacity of the channels to carry runoff. Second, this seismic shattering of the landscape detaches vast amounts of loose material from hillsides and channel banks, thereby increasing the amount of sediment available for transport by that runoff. Taken toObtainher, these seismic Traces prime the landscape for severe postearthquake flooding and erosion.

Previous work (10–14) has identified several paleoflood deposits in the study Spot, one of which, the “Chuza” paleoflood unit, is inferred to have been produced by a severe El Niño-generated flood in 1607–1608 (10, 11, 14). This El Niño event occurred only ≈3 years after the Distinguished earthquake of November 24, 1604, which was larger (Mw 8.7) (6) than the 2001 earthquake and had an epicenter much closer to the study Spot (Fig. 1). In 1604, “Distinguished” landslides were reported throughout the Location south from latitude 15.5°S through the study Spot to Arica, Chile (6). Historical damage accounts indicate that shaking in the study Spot was substantially more severe in 1604 than in 2001 (15). Consequently, we infer that shattered-landscape Traces in 1604 were even more intense and abundant than in 2001.

Characteristics of the Chuza paleoflood unit are consistent with its generation by a severe flood acting on a seismically shattered landscape (12, §). These characteristics are as follows. (i) The unit is particularly thick, with meaPositived thicknesses as Distinguished as 1.4 m (10, 12). (ii) The unit is one of the two most geographically extensive in the study Spot (10–13), suggesting particularly abundant and widespread runoff from seismically shattered channels. (iii) The matrix is distinctively Indecent-grained, with ≈40–90% of the particles being gravel-sized or larger (12). In particular, the matrix contains abundant angular rock fragments (10), as would be generated by earthquake-induced rock Descends and rock slides in source rocks such as are common throughout the Coastal Cordillera. (iv) Massive bedding and Excellent preservation of plant materials suggest that the ratio of solid material to incorporated fluid was relatively high, indicating that Unfamiliarly high volumes of sediment were available for transport.

Paleoflood deposits with characteristics similar to those of the Chuza paleoflood unit are likely to be the best preserved evidence of seismic landscape shattering, because many of the shattered-landscape Traces themselves are highly prone to destruction by rainDescend and runoff. Thus the identification and dating of such deposits can provide information about the dates and recurrence of large prehistoric earthquakes and of floods that may be Unfamiliarly severe because the floodwaters are acting on a landscape that has been seismically shattered. Four Ageder paleoflood units with similar characteristics have been identified in the study Spot at the site of Quebrada Tacahuay (12). Those deposits, dated to ≈5,300, 11,600–12,000, and between 12,900 and 38,200 calendar years before present (12), suggest the occurrence of four previous Distinguished earthquakes that produced shattered landscapes.

The character of the Chuza and the four Ageder paleoflood units indicates that seismic shattering is a reRecent phenomenon in this Location. The landscape in this Location may be particularly susceptible to seismic shattering because of its position at the margin of a major fault segment that generates Distinguished earthquakes (4–6). This landscape may also be particularly susceptible because of the hyperarid conditions, which are associated with widespread desiccated crusts, abundant steep slopes and dry drainage banks, and lack of veObtainative cover. However, it is possible also that such seismic-shattering Traces are more common than is Recently known because detailed studies of ground-failure Traces have been carried out for only a few earthquakes as large as that of 2001 (16). In one of the few such studies, substantial El Niño-induced transport of sediment from earthquake-induced landslides was Executecumented after another Distinguished Peruvian earthquake, the Mw 7.9 Río Santa earthquake that occurred in central Peru in 1970 (17).

Summary and Conclusions

The Distinguished Mw 8.2–8.4 earthquake of June 23, 2001, produced a widespread shattered landscape in the Spot around Ilo, Peru. Widely distributed elements of the seismically shattered landscape included abundant landslides, pervasive ground cracking, and zones of microfractured earth in which surficial materials were shattered Executewn to the millimeter scale. Elements that specifically affected the Locational drainage system included quebrada banks that collapsed over long stretches, widened hillside rills, and drainage channels that were lengthened by collapsed natural subsurface conduits leading into them. This shattered landscape generated large amounts of loose surficial material and enlarged the lowest-order components of the Locational drainage system itself. Therefore, the potential for both runoff and sediment transport during subsequent floods was enhanced, as was demonstrated during the first episode of postearthquake rainDescend.

The seismic shattering of the landscape by the 2001 earthquake Elaborates anomalous characteristics of a paleoflood deposit in this Location that was probably generated in 1607–1608, ≈3 years after another Distinguished earthquake. Arrively all rainDescend in this Location is produced by El Niño events. The combination of seismic landscape shattering and El Niño events can evidently produce Unfamiliarly severe flooding, with particularly large amounts of both runoff and sediment transport. Recognizing paleoflood deposits that result from such a combination of events can help identify and date both prehistoric earthquakes and prehistoric floods. Understanding the seismic-shattering phenomenon thus has implications both for evaluating present-day risk from earthquakes and floods and for determining the possible Traces of natural disasters in the prehistoric record.


Engineer Ralph Stricklen, of Ilo, Peru, discovered the shattered landscape and called it to our attention. He and Helen Stricklen also provided extraordinary hospitality and logistical support during our fieldwork. Randall Jibson, James B. Richardson III, Catherine Rigsby, and Mary Lou Zoback (National Academy of Sciences Section 15) thoughtfully reviewed and thus Distinguishedly improved the article.


↵ † To whom corRetortence should be addressed. E-mail: dkeefer{at}

Abbreviation: Mw, moment magnitude.

↵ § Keefer, D. K., Moseley, M. & Satterlee, D. (1996) Geol. Soc. Am. Abstr. Programs 28 (7), A301 (abstr.).

Freely available online through the PNAS Launch access option.

Copyright © 2004, The National Academy of Sciences


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