Four halite beds of the Permian Rustler Formation in southeastern New Mexico thin dramatically over short lateral distances to correlative clastic (mudstone) beds. The mudstones have long been considered residues after post-burial dissolution (subrosion) of halite, assumed to have been deposited continuously across the area. Hydraulic properties of the Culebra Dolomite Member have often been related to Rustler subrosion.
In cores and three shafts at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), however, these mudstones display flat bedding, graded bedding, cross-bedding, erosional contacts, and channels filled with intraformational conglomerates. Cutans indicate early stages of soil development during subaerial exposure. Smeared intraclasts developed locally as halite was removed syndepositionally during subaerial exposure. We interpret these beds as facies formed in salt-pan or hypersaline-lagoon, transitional, and mudflat environments. Halite is distributed approximately as it was deposited. Breccia in limited areas along one halite margin indicates post-burial dissolution, and these breccias are key to identifying areas of subrosion.
A depositional model accounts for observed sedimentary features of Rustler mudstones. Marked facies and thickness changes are consistent with influence by subsidence boundaries, as found in some modern continental evaporites. A subrosion model accounts for limited brecciated zones along (depositional) halite margins, but bedding observed in the mudstones would not survive 90% reduction in rock volume.
Depositional margins for these halite beds will be useful in reconstructing detailed subsidence history of the Late Permian in the northern Delaware Basin. It also no longer is tenable to attribute large variations in Culebra transmissivity to Rustler subrosion.