Abstract

The Hubbell Spring fault zone forms the modern eastern margin of the Rio Grande rift in the Albuquerque basin of north-central New Mexico. Knowledge of its seismic potential is important because the fault zone transects Kirtland Air Force Base/Sandia National Laboratories and underlies the southern Albuquerque metropolitan area. No earthquakes larger than ML 5.5 have been reported in the last 150 years in this region, so we excavated the first trench across this fault zone to determine its late Quaternary paleoseismic history. Our trench excavations revealed a complex, 16-m-wide fault zone overlain by four tapered blankets of mixed eolian sand and minor colluvium that we infer were deposited after four large-magnitude, surface-rupturing earthquakes. Although the first (oldest) rupture event is undated, we used luminescence (thermoluminescence and infrared-stimulated luminescence) ages to determine that the subsequent three rupture events occurred about 56 ± 6, 29 ± 3, and 12 ± 1 ka. These ages yield recurrence intervals of 27 and 17 k.y. between events and an elapsed time of 12 k.y. since the latest surface-rupturing paleoearthquake. Slip rates are not well constrained, but our preferred average slip rate since rupture event 2 (post-56 ka) is 0.05 mm/yr, and interval slip rates between the last three events are 0.06 and 0.09 mm/yr, respectively. Vertical displacements of 1–2 m per event and probable rupture lengths of 34–43 km indicate probable paleoearthquake magnitudes (Ms or Mw) of 6.8–7.1. Future earthquakes of this size likely would cause strong ground motions in the Albuquerque metropolitan area.

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