The early to middle Mesozoic sedimentary and magmatic history of the northern and central Andes (i.e. the NNE-trending Colombian-Ecuadorian segment, and the NW-trending Peruvian segment) exhibits a spatially contrasted evolution involving several successive tectonic and geodynamic settings.
The late Triassic to late Liassic period began with a widespread marine transgression. From the latest Triassic, the Colombian marine shelf was progressively destroyed by southward propagating extensional tectonic activity but marine sedimentation continued in Peru. During this time, no significant magmatic activity is recorded except in the emerging Colombian area. This period is interpreted as the result of rifting of a Tethyan oceanic arm which separated the Colombian and palaeo-Mexican margins.
From latest Liassic, an important calc-alkaline magmatic arc developed along the emergent Colombian segment. Further south, the north-Peruvian shelf probably emerged, but marine sedimentation continued in southern Peru. During middle and early Late Jurassic times, the Colombian segment was characterized by important magmatic activity and by coarse clastic continental sedimentation. Along the Peruvian segment, a turbiditic trough, emergent areas, and continental basins were created, and the scarcity of calc-alkaline magmatism suggests that only very local subduction took place. This period is regarded as one of the southeastward subduction beneath the Colombian segment, and of Tethyan oceanic crust originating in the newly formed ‘Colombian’ oceanic arm. This pattern would have induced a chiefly left-lateral transform motion along the Peruvian segment.
By Kimmeridgian-Tithonian times, the palaeogeographic framework had drastically changed. Along the Colombian segment, magmatic activity ceased, and continental accretions occurred along dextral strike-slip sutures. In Peru, tectonic activity was recorded by the creation of a new turbiditic trough and by the resumption of detrital sedimentation. In the coastal area, arc-related volcanism indicated that subduction took place beneath this segment. This geodynamic change is interpreted as the result of a sharp decrease in the spreading activity of the Tethyan ridges and replacement by Pacific spreading centres inducing a roughly northeastward convergence direction.