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The Albuquerque basin, located in the central portion of the Rio Grande rift, is filled by 7350 m (24,000 ft) of Tertiary clastic sediments deposited on a "basement" of Mesozoic and Paleozoic sedimentary rocks and Precambrian crystalline rocks. The basin has been a center of Cenozoic volcanic activity over the last 37 Ma.

The geophysical signature of the Rio Grande rift is grossly similar to the Basin and Range province, being characterized by thin crust, anomalously low upper mantle seismic velocity, and velocity inversion in the upper crust. Additionally, there are high levels of shallow seismicity, abnormally high heat flow, regionally low Bouguer gravity values, and anomalously high electrical conductivities at shallow to mid-crustal depths.

Detailed examination of regional seismic reflection data, supplemented by well control and field work, has demonstrated that the Albuquerque basin is asymmetric and structurally complex, consisting of two subbasins downdropped along low-angle to listric, normal faults of opposing structural polarity, some of which flatten at depths of about 10 km (6 mi). The northern subbasin has been downdropped along a major west-dipping, listric normal fault system, whereas the southern subbasin is bordered by a system of major, east-dipping, low-angle normal faults. The two sub-basins are separated by a complex, mid-basin transverse structural zone that accommodates the differential extension and polarity change between the basins.

Palinspastic restorations show that the amount of extension in the Albuquerque basin ranges from 17% in the north basin to at least 28–30% in the south basin.

Seismic and outcrop evidence suggest that preexisting structures in the Precambrian basement rocks, in part, may have controlled the geometry of Tertiary structures in this region.

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