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Geoindicators in Mountainous Areas
Report on the International Workshop on Geoindicators held in Sacred Inca Valley (Cuzco - Urubamba), Peru, 30 Sept. -5 Oct. 2002.

Jonas Satkunas - Geological Survey of Lithuania
Raul Carreno - AYAR, Peru
Michel Hermelin - EAFIT University, Medellin, Colombia
Norm Catto - Memorial University, Canada

Rapid geological changes - landslides, slope collapses, river erosion and extreme flood events etc - driven by exogenic and endogenic proceses - in mountainous areas are often very hazardous and can affect landscapes and infrastructure. Anthropogenic activities, such as changes in land use, and road and dam constructions, can accelerate such geological processes. However, in order to predict, avoid or mitigate the effects of rapid geological change, it is necessary first of all to understand the background rates, trends and causes involved. This can be accomplished by systematic use of geoindicators to track rapid geological change. The IUGS Geoindicators Initiative - GEOIN ( - encourages the application of geoscience to environmental concerns through monitoring and assessing rapid geological change.

GEOIN was the main initiator of the international workshop on geoindicators, held in Cuzco - Urubamba (the Sacred Inca Valley), Peru, 30 September - 5 October 2002. All local activities related with the workshop organisation were coordinated by Raul Carre?o (AYAR, Peru). The aims of the workshop were to introduce the geoindicators concept and practical applications, to share understanding of rapid geological change, to discuss methods and ways of tracking geoindicators, to further the development of an international network of geoscientists interested in the application of geoindicators in environmental monitoring, assessing and reporting.

The workshop was attended by 36 participants. Most were from 12 different Peruvian institutions, including the University of Cusco, Institute of Geophysics, Institute of Natural Culture, and the Geological Survey of Peru (INGEMMENT).

Photo. 1. Participants of the workshop close to Abra de Lares Pass, 4200 m a.s.l. Here geoindicator of glaciers activity was discussed: end moraines, dam swamps, pending valeys, etc.

The workshop consisted of two days of lectures, presentations and discussions and two days of field trips. The workshop materials include the Spanish version of the Geoindicators checklist, abstracts of invited lectures, and papers given by participants.

Two days of the workshop were devoted to lectures and presentations. Following a welcome address by Peter Bobrowsky, Vice-President of IUGS, invited lectures were given:

Round table discussions concentrated on two major questions. In answer to the first - What Geoindicators and geological procesess are now being monitored in Peru? Who is responsible and where are the data? - the following summary was compiled:

The second question concerned ways to improve the implementation of geoindicators in Andean environmental monitoring systems. Suggestions were made to introduce geoindicators via various Peruvian organizations: glaciers (INRENA), coasts (Marina Peruana - the Peruvian National Navy), tsunamis (Marina Peruana), soils (INGEMET, INRENA, Programa Nacional Agricola, INADE), seismicity (IGP), slope movements (INGEMET: IGP), volcanism (IGP), surface and ground water (DIGESA), soil quality (Sismit, Pronamach), humid zones (CENAMI -meteorological Institute). Two years ago, during a meeting organised by CONAM (Natural Environment Council), a proposal for an inter-institutional agreement on environmental indicators was made, but has not yet been realized. It was noted that norms for each geoindicator can be found onn the GEOIN web site ( Considering that governmental bodies will retain their responsibilities related to geoindicators, it is very important that one would take leadership in order to coordinate the project. CONEYTEC (National Council for Sciences and Technology) was mentioned, but its functions are too general. CONAM (National Council for Environment) appears to be a better choice. A national network of geoscientists interested in application of geoindicators in Peru, would be also an important driving force.

In the final workshop discussion, Paolo Canuti, Vice-President of IAEG for Europe, named the geoindicators concept as an important new evolving philosophy for the geosciences. In his summary of the workshop, J. Satkunas (co-director of GEOIN) stressed the importance of understanding natural geological change by identifying and monitoring geoindicators and their value for assessing the state of the environment.

The field trips, planned and guided by Raul Carre?o, introduced participants to a broad variety of landscapes, geological and historical features of the Sacred Valley of Incas. The main interest, however, in the context of the workshop theme were the traces and indicators of rapid geological change. Some 150 hectares surface landslide on the way to Chinchero were observed. This landslide is active and produces mass of debris that endangers the infrastructure of "downstream" settlements. Sites with intensive gullying were observed in many places. Intensive gullying on the flattened surface of peneplain, north of the Urubamba valley is taking place in crust of weathering of carbonatic rocks (tierra rosa). Gullies are of several hundred metres long, with numerous branches. The 1 metre depth gullies are incised in bottoms of these gullies and indicate intensity of of single events during heavy rainfalls. No monitoring of the gullies takes place. However, canals to collect run-off water on the slope were observed.

Photo. 2. Gullies are widely developed and significantly complicate landuse and infrastructure (see the side of the road is already destroyed). On the slope (right side) canal for collection of runnoff water and prevention of gullying is located.

Geological processes play very important role in relationship of conservation of the region's magnificent cultural heritage. This problem was exemplified at the Moray site (UNESCO World Heritage site) where the rings of Inca and pre-Inca terraces (the Incas agricultural experiment) are constructed in a karstic doline of some 150 m depth. Active landslide destroyed rings of the 7th-8th terraces and these are currently under reconstruction. The site demonstrates excellent Inca knowledge of management of dolines. However some observations (personal communication by Raul Carre?o) indicate that karstic process forming the doline is still active, as suggested by cracks in carbonate rocks on the slopes.

Photo 3. Yawarmaqui landslide. Below in the valley - the Urubamba town.

A large landslide is pending on the slope approximately 300 metres above the Urubamba town (Photo 3). The landslide is now accelerating, with movement of approximately 4 cm/year (personal communication by Raul Carre?o, based on visual observations). A big landslide occurred here 1678 AD and dammed the Urubamba river (a white fan of debris is seen in the photo). Monitoring of this landslide was carried out until 1998 within the framework of a Swiss cooperation project. The municipality of Urubamba was informed about the hazard from the accelerating landslide, but is apparently more interested in selling land in the landslide zone rather than in monitoring and prevention measures.

Nevertheless, in spite of lack of comprehensive geological monitoring and research activities at present in Peru, the workshop ended with clear understanding of value and significance of tracking geoindicators. The workshop was a significant event for strengthening national and international cooperation in the field of application of geoscientific knowledge for environmental assessment and prevention of damage from geological hazards.


The workshop could not have been held without the support from the Institute for Earth Science and the Environment of the Geological Society of America, Newkirk-Engler and May (the Foundation for Relevant Science), International Union of Geological Sciences, and many other organizations. We acknowledge with gratitude the lecturers, local organisers and all participants of the workshop for significant contributions in bringing together and sharing their knowledge and experience of rapidly changing geological environments.

 © Geoindicators Initiative GEOIN