Magazine article Science News

Is Nessie Merely a Bad Case of the Shakes?

Magazine article Science News

Is Nessie Merely a Bad Case of the Shakes?

Article excerpt

Sightings of the Loch Ness Monster have variously been attributed to ancient marine reptiles that somehow survived extinction, uncommonly large sturgeon, and too much Scotch whiskey. Now, an Italian scientist contends that the original source of the monster's legend, as well as the basis for many of the modern encounters with the supposed beast, may be seismic activity.

At about 25 miles in length, up to 1 mile in width, and about 800 feet in depth, Loch Ness is one of the largest and deepest lakes in Scotland. It lies atop the Great Glen fault, which generates three or four moderate earthquakes each century, says Luigi Piccardi, a structural geologist at the Center for the Study of the Geology of the Apennines in Florence.

Most Nessie sightings have occurred in the northernmost portion of the loch. It's probably no accident that this region also harbors the most active portion of the fault, Piccardi said last week in Edinburgh at a joint meeting of the Geological Societies of America and London.

Seismic activity has produced waves on the loch before. A major earthquake near Lisbon, Portugal, on Nov. 1, 1755 was felt from northern Africa to Finland. It caused a giant sloshing wave, called a seiche, on Loch Ness.

The sighting that spawned the legend of Nessie occurred in the 6th century when St. Columba, an Irish monk who converted much of Scotland to Christianity, supposedly prevented a great beast from devouring a man in the lake's water. Perhaps tellingly, Piccardi notes, this encounter happened little more than a mile from the spot where a major quake would strike in 1901. …

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