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Geophysical constraints on Rio Grande rift structure in the central San Luis Basin, Colorado and New Mexico

October 28, 2013

Interpretation of gravity, aeromagnetic, and magnetotelluric (MT) data reveals patterns of rifting, rift-sediment thicknesses, distribution of pre-rift volcanic and sedimentary rocks, and distribution of syn-rift volcanic rocks in the central San Luis Basin, one of the northernmost major basins that make up the Rio Grande rift. Rift-sediment thicknesses for the central San Luis Basin determined from a three-dimensional gravity inversion indicate that syn-rift Santa Fe Group sediments have a maximum thickness of ~2 km in the Sanchez graben near the eastern margin of the basin along the central Sangre de Cristo fault zone, and reach nearly 1 km within the Monte Vista graben near the western basin margin along the San Juan Mountains. In between, Santa Fe Group thickness is negligible under the San Luis Hills and estimated to reach ~1.1 km under the Costilla Plains (although no independent thickness constraints exist, and a range of thicknesses of 600 m to 2 km is geophysically reasonable). From combined geophysical and geologic considerations, pre-rift, dominantly sedimentary rocks appear to increase in thickness from none in the Sanchez graben on the east to perhaps 800 m under the San Luis Hills on the west. The pre-rift rocks are most likely early Tertiary in age, but the presence of Mesozoic and Paleozoic sedimentary rocks cannot be ruled out. Geophysical data provide new evidence that an isolated exposure of Proterozoic rocks on San Pedro Mesa is rooted in the Precambrian basement. This narrow, north-south–trending basement high has ~2 km of positive relief with respect to the base of the Sanchez graben, and separates the graben from the structural depression beneath the Costilla Plains. A structural high composed of pre-rift rocks, long inferred to extend from under the San Luis Hills to the Taos Plateau, is confirmed and found to be denser than previously believed, with little or no overlying Santa Fe Group sediments. Major faults in the study area are delineated by geophysical data and models; these faults include significant vertical offsets (≥1 km) of Precambrian rocks along the central and southern zones of the Sangre de Cristo fault system. Other faults with similarly large offsets of the Santa Fe Group include a fault bounding the western margin of San Pedro Mesa, and other faults that bound the Monte Vista graben in an area previously assumed to be a simple hinge zone at the western edge of the San Luis Basin. A major north-south–trending structure with expression in gravity and MT data occurs at the boundary between the Costilla Plains and the San Luis Hills structural high. Although it has been interpreted as a down-to-the-east normal fault or fault zone, our modeling suggests that it also is likely related to pre-rift tectonics. Aeromagnetic anomalies over much of the area are interpreted to mainly reflect variations of remanent magnetic polarity and burial depth of the 5.3–3.7 Ma Servilleta Basalt of the Taos Plateau volcanic field. Magnetic-source depth estimates are interpreted to indicate patterns of subsidence following eruption of the basalt, with maximum subsidence in the Sanchez graben.

Publication Year 2013
Title Geophysical constraints on Rio Grande rift structure in the central San Luis Basin, Colorado and New Mexico
DOI 10.1130/2013.2494(04)
Authors Benjamin J. Drenth, V. J. Grauch, Brian D. Rodriguez
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title GSA Special Papers
Index ID 70215749
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geology, Geophysics, and Geochemistry Science Center