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Could a Seismic Fault Account for Loch Ness's Mysterious Monster?

The active Great Glen Fault (GGF) running beneath Loch Ness may explain sightings of the lake's famous monster, Italian geologist Luigi Piccardi suggested this week at a multidisciplinary meeting organized by the Geological Society of America and the Geological Society of London. It's not the first time Piccardi, who works at the Centro di Studio dell'Appennino e delle Catene Perimediterranee in Firenze, has made such a connection. He in fact specializes in finding geological explanations for mythical and historical events.

Take, for instance, the strange visions of the Oracle of Delphi. According to Piccardi, they may have been inspired by hallucinogenic vapors rising through a fault from hydrocarbon-bearing strata. He also notes that the alleged lairs of mythical chthonic dragons all lay above major active faults. "Veneration of these places may have been a result of people seeing unusual natural phenomena there," Piccardi notes. "These may have been gas and flame emissions, underground roaring, shaking and rupture of the ground. Of course, the Aegean is a very seismic area, so the association might be coincidental. But I think it can also be seen in less earthquake-prone areas."

Loch Ness is just such a legend-making location. One of three long thin lakes in the Scottish Highlands, Loch Ness is only one mile wide but 24 miles long and an impressive 600 feet deep. Visibility in the lake is very low, leaving plenty of deep dark water to hide monsters and other creatures. The fault line there caused an earthquake measuring five on the Richter scale as recently as 1901. Could such rumbling help explain how the myth of Nessie gained momentum over the years? Consider the very first reports of the monster, which appeared in the seventh-century text Adomnan's Life of St. Columba. The author writes that the dragon appeared cum ingenti fremitu¿with strong shaking.

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