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The 26 December 2004 earthquake and tsunami that struck offshore the Sumatra-Andaman islands with tragic effects on inhabitants around the Indian Ocean is obviously a key event in the Earth sciences. Much like other critical topics of recent years, such as environmental issues and climate change, the earthquake and tsunami affected our science in many ways, while also connecting our science with the public policy arena.

Our previous understanding of these enormous earthquakes and their resulting tsunamis had been limited to two previous magnitude 9+ events, the Chile and Alaska earthquakes of the 1960s. At that time, digital recording of global seismic data was not standard practice, and other data sets were equally limited.