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The slip did not happen instantaneously but took place in two phases over several minutes: Seismographic and acoustic data indicate that the first phase involved a rupture about 400 kilometres (250 mi) long and 100 kilometres (60 mi) wide, 30 kilometres (19 mi) beneath the sea bed—the largest rupture ever known to have been caused by an earthquake.The rupture proceeded at about 2.8 kilometres per second (1.7 miles per second) (10,000 km/h or 6,200 mph), beginning off the coast of Aceh and proceeding north-westerly over about 100 seconds.
The shock had a moment magnitude of 9.1–9.3 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of IX (Violent).
This quickly elevated the height and increased the speed of waves, completely destroying the nearby Indonesian town of Lhoknga.
Indonesia lies between the Pacific Ring of Fire along the north-eastern islands adjacent to New Guinea, and the Alpide belt that runs along the south and west from Sumatra, Java, Bali, Flores to Timor.
The only other recorded earthquakes of magnitude 9.0 or greater were off Kamchatka, Russia, on 4 November 1952 (magnitude 9.0) and Tōhoku, Japan (magnitude 9.1) in March 2011.
Each of these megathrust earthquakes also spawned tsunamis in the Pacific Ocean.