Tsunami waves do not resemble normal undersea currents or sea waves because their wavelength is far longer. Rather than appearing as a breaking wave a tsunami may instead initially resemble a rapidly rising tide and for this reason they are often referred to as tidal waves although this usage is not favoured by the scientific community because tsunamis are not tidal in nature. Tsunamis generally consist of a series of waves with periods ranging from minutes to hours, arriving in a so-called internal wave train. Wave heights of tens of metres can be generated by large events. Although the impact to coastal areas their destructive power can be enormous and they can affect entire ocean basins the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami was among the deadliest natural disasters in human history with at least 230,000 people killed or missing in 14 countries bordering the Indian Ocean.
Greek historian Thucydides suggested in his late-5th century BC History of the Peloponnesian War that tsunamis were related to submarine earthquakes but the understanding of a tsunami's nature remained slim until the 20th century and much remains unknown. Major areas of current research include trying to determine why some large earthquakes do not generate tsunamis while other smaller ones do trying to accurately forecast the passage across the oceans and also to forecast how tsunami waves interact with specific shorelines.
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