An Italian geologist maintains that the fabled monster of Loch Ness is nothing more than hot volcanic air, and he has sent ripples around the shores of the deep lake in order to test his theory. Luigi Piccardi, a seismologist from Florence, says the legend of Nessie, which dates back nearly 1,500 years, could be the result of a major geological fault that runs beneath the lake?s dark waters.

The Great Glen Fault, which runs the entire length of Britain?s largest lake, in the heart of the Scottish Highlands, is one of the country?s few still active volcanic areas. Piccardi says that it is bound to have produced sinister rumblings and hot bubbles of gas over the centuries, giving birth to stories of monsters living in its depths.

The legend of a monster living in Loch Ness dates back to 565 AD, when St. Columba, the holy man who brought Christianity to Scotland, supposedly clashed with the fearsome lake-dwelling beast. The invention of photography has given us further evidence of the creature.

?Veneration of places like Loch Ness may have been a result of people seeing unusual natural phenomena there,? Piccardi says. ?These may have been gas and flame emissions, underground roaring, shaking and the rupture of the ground.?

Gary Campbell, President of the Official Loch Ness Monster Fan Club, still insists that Nessie is real. ?Over the last five or six years that we’ve been recorded sightings, none of them have been of the bubble variety,? he says. ?Everybody has seen something solid so I don’t know how an earthquake can be used to explain a solid hump or a solid headed Nessie.?

Meanwhile, an international underwater search team is getting to visit a lake in Ireland in search of the Lough Ree monster. The team of three, Jan Sundberg of Sweden, Espen Samuelsen of Norway and Nick Sucik, a US marine and authority on Irish lake monsters, will look for both skeletons and living creatures.

They are interested in discovering whether the legendary monster may have been a giant eel, also known as a horse eel. Horse eels have regularly been sighted in the waterways of Ireland. They will be using equipment that detects underwater disturbances of the type made by large mammals.

Witnesses claim the monster’s body loops out of the water when it swims, and is at least six feet long with a relatively small 18-inch head. According to Sundberg, ?The description of these creatures are very much the same as those in Scandinavia?an eel or snake-like animal, three to 10 metres [9 to 30 feet] long, evenly thick and muscular. It has the ability to move over land, from lake to lake, and could be aggressive.? In the past Gust has searched for the Loch Ness monster and intends to search the Lough Ree lake bed using some of the same techniques.

The monster was last sighted in 1960, by three Catholic priests. Fathers Richard Quigley, Matthew Burke and Daniel Murray were fishing on Lough Ree when one of them claims to have spotted a large black animal swimming up the lough. The creature rose and fell beneath the surface, forming a loop as it traveled.

Sightings of monsters in Lough Ree date from an early saint?s reference to a fierce monster that lived in the lake. This is reminiscent of the beginning of the Loch Ness legend in Scotland.

In Scotland, the team lowered listening devices into Loch Ness. One special sequence excited Gust, who says it sounded precisely like large bodies propelled by large flippers, moving through the water.

Analysis suggests the movements resembled a plesiosaur?a prehistoric aquatic reptile. The plesiosaur lived in the ocean, not in freshwater lakes, but fossils from plesiosaurs have been found in Scotland.

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