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It was an autumn day in the Shetland Islands of Scotland. Perhaps fishing boats were hauling in catch; maybe children were playing on the beach. Then it came in: a wall of water reaching a height of 25m above normal sea level at some points, high enough to top a seven-storey building. Travelling at a speed of some 35 metres per second (80mph) the wave might as well have been cement.

But unlike the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, there were no cameras to record the devastation, no internet to spread the news. Instead, when the water receded, it left behind only imprints on the landscape which would remain undiscovered for another 8,000 years.

Today, geologists, palaeontologists and archaeologists are working to piece together exactly what happened, what its effects were – and how likely a similar event is to occur again.

The tsunami that ripped across the North Sea around 6200BC, steamrolling coastlines from Norway to Scotland, resulted from the sudden collapse of some 180 miles (290km) of the continental shelf near Norway. Displacing some 3,000 cubic kilometres of sediment, the Storegga slide’s impact was felt far beyond Scotland’s shores. The resulting wave reached as far as Greenland, says Dr Jon Hill of Imperial College London in the UK.

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