Upper Cenozoic basaltic rocks in and near the northern Rio Grande depression, a major intracontinental tension-rift structure, vary systematically in petrology and chemistry with distance from the depression. Basalts and basaltic andesites of alkalic affinities, commonly showing evidence of crustal contamination, were erupted east and west of the depression concurrently with its formation, whereas little-contaminated tholeiitic basalts filled parts of the depression late in its history. Eruption of the contrasting basalt types was in part concurrent. The lateral change from alkalic to tholeiitic basaltic volcanism may reflect different conditions of magma generation in the mantle that are related to changes in crustal thickness and thermal gradient across the rift. Recent experimental studies suggest that the variations in magma composition may be due to differing depths of magma fractionation, the tholeiitic basalts originating at shallower depths than the alkalic basalts.

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