The San Ysidro fault is a spectacularly exposed normal fault located in the northwestern Albuquerque Basin of the Rio Grande Rift. This intrabasin fault is representative of many faults that formed in poorly lithified sediments throughout the rift. The fault is exposed over nearly 10 km and accommodates nearly 700 m of dip slip in subhorizontal, siliciclastic sediments. The extent of the exposure facilitates study of along-strike variations in deformation mechanisms, architecture, geochemistry, and permeability. The fault is composed of structural and hydrogeologic components that include a clay-rich fault core, a calcite-cemented mixed zone, and a poorly developed damage zone primarily consisting of deformation bands. Structural textures suggest that initial deformation in the fault occurred at low temperature and pressure, was within the paleosaturated zone of the evolving Rio Grande Rift, and was dominated by particulate flow. Little geochemical change is apparent across the fault zone other than due to secondary processes. The lack of fault-related geochemical change is interpreted to reflect the fundamental nature of water-saturated, particulate flow. Early mechanical entrainment of low-permeability clays into the fault core likely caused damming of groundwater flow on the up-gradient, footwall side of the fault. This may have caused a pressure gradient and flow of calcite-saturated waters in higher-permeability, fault-entrained siliciclastic sediments, ultimately promoting their cementation by sparry calcite. Once developed, the cemented and clay-rich fault has likely been, and continues to be, a partial barrier to cross-fault groundwater flow, as suggested by petrophysical measurements. Aeromagnetic data indicate that there may be many more unmapped faults with similar lengths to the San Ysidro fault buried within Rio Grande basins. If these buried faults formed by the same processes that formed the San Ysidro fault and have persistent low-permeability cores and cemented mixed zones, they could compartmentalize the basin-fill aquifers more than is currently realized, particularly if pumping stresses continue to increase in response to population growth.

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