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Professional Paper 1729

Prepared in cooperation with the New Mexico Environment Department

Questa Baseline and Premining Ground-Water Quality Investigation 18. Characterization of Brittle Structures in the Questa Caldera and Their Potential Influence on Bedrock Ground-Water Flow, Red River Valley, New Mexico

By Jonathan Saul Caine

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This report presents a field-based characterization of fractured and faulted crystalline bedrock in the southern portion of the Questa caldera and its margin. The focus is (1) the identification and description of brittle geological structures and (2) speculation on the potential effects and controls that these structures might have on the potential fluxes of paleo to present-day ground water in relation to natural or mining-related metal and acid loads to surface and ground water. The entire study area is pervasively jointed with a few distinctive patterns such as orthogonal, oblique orthogonal, and conjugate joint sets. Joint intensity, the number of joints measured per unit line length, is high to extreme. Three types of fault zones are present that include partially silicified, low- and high-angle faults with well-developed damage zones and clay-rich cores and high-angle, unsilicified open faults. Conceptually, the joint networks can be thought of as providing the background porosity and permeability structure of the bedrock aquifer system. This background is cut by discrete entities such as the faults with clay-rich cores and open faults that may act as important hydrologic heterogeneities. The southern caldera margin runs parallel to the course of the Red River Valley, whose incision has left an extreme topographic gradient at high angles to the river. Many of the faults and fault intersections run parallel to this assumed hydraulic gradient; thus, these structures have great potential to provide paleo and present-day, discrete and anisotropic pathways for solute transport within the otherwise relatively low porosity and permeability bedrock background aquifer system. Although brittle fracture networks and faults are pervasive and complex, simple Darcy calculations are used to estimate the hydraulic conductivity and potential ground-water discharges of the bedrock aquifer, caldera margin, and other faults in order to gain insight into the potential contributions of these features to the ground-water and surface-water flow systems. These calculations show that, because all of these features are found along the Red River in the Cabin Springsāˆ’Columbine Parkāˆ’Goat Hill fan area, their combined effect increases the probability that the bedrock aquifer ground-water flow system provides discharge to the Red River along this reach.

Version 1.0

Posted February 2007

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