LONDON -- Sightings of the Loch Ness Monster may be the earth's fault, says an Italian scientist who suggests that the leviathan is an illusion created by geological activity.
Luigi Piccardi, a Florence-based geologist, said in a paper prepared for a scientific conference that he believes the monster is linked to the Great Glen Fault which runs along the loch.
Piccardi's paper was on Wednesday's agenda at the Earth System Processes Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, organized by the Geological Society of London and the Geological Society of America.
Adrian Shine, leader of the Loch Ness Project at Drumnadrochit, Scotland, said Piccardi's theory could not account for all the reports of a monster.
"Monster sightings are not restricted at times of seismic activity," Shine said in a telephone interview.
However, Shine added, "I think it is very interesting that the fault line origins of Loch Ness have now been highlighted."
Piccardi has previously theorized that the visions of the Oracle of Delphi were the result of hallucinogenic vapors seeping through a fault line from hydrocarbon-bearing rock strata, and he has suggested that other mythological sites in Greece are strongly correlated with active geological faults.
"Veneration of these places may have been a result of people seeing unusual natural phenomena there," Piccardi said.
"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."
In the case of Loch Ness, he said that association appeared to be borne out in St. Columba's reports of an encounter with a monster in the loch in the seventh century. These were written down by St. Adomnan, Abbott of Iona in his "Life of St. Columba," about 100 years after Columba's death.
"In the original Latin, the dragon appears 'cum ingenti fremitu' - with strong shaking," Piccardi said. "It disappears 'tremefacta' - or shaking herself."
The Great Glen Fault is a strike-slip fault - two pieces of the earth's crust sliding past each other - like the more active San Andreas Fault in California. The Great Glen, which includes the lochs of Ness, Oich and Lochy, slashes diagonally through northwest Scotland, dividing the central Highlands from the northern Highlands.
Shine, who has studied Loch Ness for nearly three decades, said there had been significant tremors in 1816, 1888, 1890 and 1901, and some minor shocks in the 1930s.
Gas emissions have also been observed in the loch, said Shine, who observed one vent spewing methane for at least two weeks.
Shine said boat wakes, especially from large craft, are the most common cause of monster sightings. Mirage effects above the lake can cause ducks or other small animals to appear much larger, he said.
It is also known that surface water can flow against the wind, which can create the illusion that a log is an animal paddling into the wind, he said.
The Loch Ness monster is a lucrative tourist draw, even if its existence has never been proven. Various monster investigators have suggested it could be a swimming dinosaur called a plesiosaur, a tree trunk, a giant eel or a hoax.
On the Net:
Loch Ness Project, http://www.lochnessproject.org