Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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Contact: Karina De Castris
European Space Agency

The island that time forgot

North Sentinel Island as seen from ESA's Proba satellite
Click here for a high resolution photograph.

On 26 December 2004, the world was changed when a huge earthquake tore the planet's crust apart. The enormous shock waves created a tsunami (giant ocean wave) that killed many thousands of people and flattened coastal towns and villages.

Other changes have taken place away from the headlines. One example is North Sentinel, a tiny island in the Indian Ocean. This recent picture from ESA's Proba satellite, taken from a height of 600 km, shows the square-shaped island largely covered with clouds. Before the earthquake, trees grew down to the sea. The shallow water and coral reefs that hugged its shore appeared a brilliant turquoise colour.

Proba's latest view is very different. Like many nearby islands, North Sentinel was lifted out of the ocean. As a result, it is now ringed by bare sand. Many of the blue lagoons have vanished.

No one knows how many people live on the island or how the earthquake affected them. The islanders still live like Stone Age people, refusing to have any contact with outsiders. Surveys suggest the tribe survived the disaster, perhaps retreating from the shore well before the waves hit.

However, images from space suggest that except for the east side of the island - some of their inshore fishing grounds may have been destroyed.

The reefs themselves home to millions of sea creatures - are also unlikely to survive. Some are no longer covered at high tide, while others are barely submerged and may be damaged by intense sunlight.