Purdue University Graduate School
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Transformation of the hyper-arid desert soils in Arequipa Peru during four decades of irrigated agriculture

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posted on 2020-12-16, 16:07 authored by Lucia De Lourdes ZunigaLucia De Lourdes Zuniga
In Peru, nearly 32 million people rely heavily on human-made coastal irrigation agricultural hubs that rely on water from melting glaciers, snowpack, and rain transported by rivers and canals from high in the Andes. However, Peru’s water resources are in a vulnerable state as climate change has shifted rainfall patterns causing glacier retreat affecting nearly the loss of one-third of the glaciers. In recent decades, an increase and expansion of irrigation projects in Peru require agriculture practices to consider environmental impacts directly. Now is the time to explore the sustainability of the desert agroecosystems and understand how different water management practices influence the supporting soil’s health so decision-makers can plan for future change in water resources and any feedbacks to the productivity of the soils. Over the past 40 years, Peru has led some of the largest scale water management projects on earth to convert infertile coastal desert soils into irrigated agricultural land. Still, these efforts can come at a severe local cost with impacts to groundwater quality, salination of the soil, toxic concentrations of trace metals due to evaporation, and overuse of fertilizer and pesticides. This thesis presents a study to assess how drip irrigation impacts desert soil chemistry within one of Peru’s desert irrigation projects in Arequipa’s southern district. We explored a chronosequence of drip irrigation in vineyards of 9-, 16- and 35- years. Results showed that both soil carbon and salinity accumulated progressively over time but that spatial accumulation patterns were influenced by proximity to the irrigation drip line. By 35 years, salinity levels exceeded what would be tolerances for most crops. Trace metals, such as Mn, Zn, and Ni, increased with time under drip irrigation and have significant relationships with Fe, present in the highest concentrations, seemingly controlling the patterns due to co-precipitation. However, no trace metals were found in quantities that would exceed Peru’s limits for agricultural soils. While drip irrigation is considered a water conservation strategy and widely promoted in the region over other irrigation techniques like high water volume furrow irrigation, its use may accelerate localized negative impacts to surface soil health. These progressive changes highlight the need for effective monitoring and salinity mitigation strategies in the region. This project is part of the bilateral technical program between Purdue University and Universidad Nacional San Agustín (UNSA) called the Arequipa Nexus Institute for Food, Water, Energy, and the Environment.


Arequipa Nexus Institute


Degree Type

  • Master of Science


  • Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Tim Filley

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Javier Gonzalez

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Darrell Schulze

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr. Lisa Welp