"Sooner" for a geologist usually means "later" for other humans: the earthquake and its aftershocks, Curray believes, eventually ruptured and released stress along the entire western edge of the Burma plate, making other massive jolts unlikely for a century. Large quakes could still be expected along the eastern edge, he warns: the Burma plate, drifting northward around 25 millimeters a year, tends to stick and unstick against the plate to its east in motions that produce "strike-slip" earthquakes. Such earthquakes probably would not result in tsunamis, because they would cause the water column above mainly to shear, not to lift. But Kerry Sieh of Caltech suspects that an increased risk of a tsunami-spawning earthquake prevails south of the epicenter, where the rupture did not propagate. Sensitive measurements of the region's contours will be necessary to resolve this question.
Seismometers, tide gauges and other detection instruments now being deployed will make the next tsunami, if not the next earthquake, come as less of a surprise. Still, the coastal areas of Asia face future challenges: cyclones and their attendant surges will take an increasing toll as global warming disturbs weather systems. The devastated communities should ideally be rebuilt on high ground far from shore, where they would be protected by mangroves from the ever rising ocean. But for millions of the poor in crowded countries, such safety may never be possible.