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A shifting rift—Geophysical insights into the evolution of Rio Grande rift margins and the Embudo transfer zone near Taos, New Mexico

June 2, 2017

We present a detailed example of how a subbasin develops adjacent to a transfer zone in the Rio Grande rift. The Embudo transfer zone in the Rio Grande rift is considered one of the classic examples and has been used as the inspiration for several theoretical models. Despite this attention, the history of its development into a major rift structure is poorly known along its northern extent near Taos, New Mexico. Geologic evidence for all but its young rift history is concealed under Quaternary cover. We focus on understanding the pre-Quaternary evidence that is in the subsurface by integrating diverse pieces of geologic and geophysical information. As a result, we present a substantively new understanding of the tectonic configuration and evolution of the northern extent of the Embudo fault and its adjacent subbasin.

We integrate geophysical, borehole, and geologic information to interpret the subsurface configuration of the rift margins formed by the Embudo and Sangre de Cristo faults and the geometry of the subbasin within the Taos embayment. Key features interpreted include (1) an imperfect D-shaped subbasin that slopes to the east and southeast, with the deepest point ∼2 km below the valley floor located northwest of Taos at ∼36° 26′N latitude and 105° 37′W longitude; (2) a concealed Embudo fault system that extends as much as 7 km wider than is mapped at the surface, wherein fault strands disrupt or truncate flows of Pliocene Servilleta Basalt and step down into the subbasin with a minimum of 1.8 km of vertical displacement; and (3) a similar, wider than expected (5–7 km) zone of stepped, west-down normal faults associated with the Sangre de Cristo range front fault.

From the geophysical interpretations and subsurface models, we infer relations between faulting and flows of Pliocene Servilleta Basalt and older, buried basaltic rocks that, combined with geologic mapping, suggest a revised rift history involving shifts in the locus of fault activity as the Taos subbasin developed. We speculate that faults related to north-striking grabens at the end of Laramide time formed the first west-down master faults. The Embudo fault may have initiated in early Miocene southwest of the Taos region. Normal-oblique slip on these early fault strands likely transitioned in space and time to dominantly left-lateral slip as the Embudo fault propagated to the northeast. During and shortly after eruption of Servilleta Basalt, proto-Embudo fault strands were active along and parallel to the modern, NE-aligned Rio Pueblo de Taos, ∼4–7 km basinward of the modern, mapped Embudo fault zone. Faults along the northeastern subbasin margin had northwest strikes for most of the period of subbasin formation and were located ∼5–7 km basinward of the modern Sangre de Cristo fault. The locus of fault activity shifted to more northerly striking faults within 2 km of the modern range front sometime after Servilleta volcanism had ceased. The northerly faults may have linked with the northeasterly proto-Embudo faults at this time, concurrent with the development of N-striking Los Cordovas normal faults within the interior of the subbasin. By middle Pleistocene(?) time, the Los Cordovas faults had become inactive, and the linked Embudo–Sangre de Cristo fault system migrated to the south, to the modern range front.

Publication Year 2017
Title A shifting rift—Geophysical insights into the evolution of Rio Grande rift margins and the Embudo transfer zone near Taos, New Mexico
DOI 10.1130/GES01425.1
Authors V. J. S. Grauch, Paul W. Bauer, Benjamin J. Drenth, Keith I. Kelson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geosphere
Index ID 70188154
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Science Center