Motivated by the need to document and evaluate the types and variability of fault zone properties that potentially affect aquifer systems in basins of the middle Rio Grande rift, we systematically characterized structural and cementation properties of exposed fault zones at 176 sites in the northern Albuquerque Basin. A statistical analysis of measurements and observations evaluated four aspects of the fault zones: (1) attitude and displacement, (2) cement, (3) lithology of the host rock or sediment, and (4) character and width of distinctive structural architectural components at the outcrop scale. Three structural architectural components of the fault zones were observed: (1) outer damage zones related to fault growth; these zones typically contain deformation bands, shear fractures, and open extensional fractures, which strike subparallel to the fault and may promote ground-water flow along the fault zone; (2) inner mixed zones composed of variably entrained, disrupted, and dismembered blocks of host sediment; and (3) central fault cores that accommodate most shear strain and in which persistent low- permeability clay-rich rocks likely impede the flow of water across the fault. The lithology of the host rock or sediment influences the structure of the fault zone and the width of its components. Different grain-size distributions and degrees of induration of the host materials produce differences in material strength that lead to variations in width, degree, and style of fracturing and other fault-related deformation. In addition, lithology of the host sediment appears to strongly control the distribution of cement in fault zones.
Most faults strike north to north-northeast and dip 55? - 77? east or west, toward the basin center. Most faults exhibit normal slip, and many of these faults have been reactivated by normal-oblique and strike slip. Although measured fault displacements have a broad range, from 0.9 to 4,000 m, most are <100 m, and fault zones appear to have formed mainly at depths less than 1,000 m. Fault zone widths do not exceed 40 m (median width = 15.5 m). The mean width of fault cores (0.1 m) is nearly one order of magnitude less than that of mixed zones (0.75 m) and two orders of magnitude less than that of damage zones (9.7 m).
Cements, a proxy for localized flow of ancient ground water, are common along fault zones in the basin. Silica cements are limited to faults that are near and strike north to northwest toward the Jemez volcanic field north of the basin, whereas carbonate fault cements are widely distributed. Coarse sediments (gravel and sand) host the greatest concentrations of cement within fault zones. Cements fill some extension fractures and, to a lesser degree, are concentrated along shear fractures and deformation bands within inner damage zones. Cements are commonly concentrated in mixed zones and inner damage zones on one side of a fault and thus are asymmetrically distributed within a fault zone, but cement does not consistently lie on the basinward side of faults. From observed spatial patterns of asymmetrically distributed fault zone cements, we infer that ancient ground-water flow was commonly localized along, and bounded by, faults in the basin.
It is apparent from our study that the Albuquerque Basin contains a high concentration of faults. The geometry of, internal structure of, and cement and clay distribution in fault zones have created and will continue to create considerable heterogeneity of permeability within the basin aquifers. The characteristics and statistical range of fault zone features appear to be predictable and consistent throughout the basin; this predictability can be used in ground-water flow simulations that consider the influence of faults.