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* Scientific investigations at Loch Ness

Photograph Loch Ness with Urquhart Castle in the foreground 7 May 2005 Photo Credit Sam Fentress

WHAT IS KNOWN AT THREE QUARTERS OF A CENTURY OF THE FIRST REPORT ON THE "MONSTER": SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH AT LOCH NESS
* Investigaciones científicas en el Loch Ness

On Tuesday, 2 May 1933 the Scottish newspaper "Inverness Courier" warned of a sighting of a very strange, large aquatic animal. Between 9 and 23 November naturalist Rupert Gould interviewed more than 50 people on the case, and months later he published the first book on what today is called "the Loch Ness monster." Here is a summary of the expeditions which have come to this place.

Any interpretation of the "monster" should consider the unique geographical, physical and biological properties of Loch Ness. In 1910 John Murray and Laurence Pullar published their "Bathymetric survey of the freshwater lochs of Scotland" (in two volumes of text and four of maps, Challenger Office, Edinburgh), where Loch Ness is described as "one of the best known of the larger Scottish lochs [a type of lake], since it forms a considerable part (nearly one-half) of the waterway known as the Caledonian Canal, which occupies the great glen running in a north-east and south-west direction from the Moray Firth on the east coast of Scotland to Loch Linnhe on the west coast, thus cutting Scotland into two portions. Through the Caledonian Canal thousands of visitors are carried each season on the route between Inverness and Fort William, and the splendid scenery of the canal and surrounding district has furnished a theme for many pens.". They determined that its elevation is 16 m above sea level, it is 36,6-km long, with an average width of 1,4 km and it has an area of 5666 hectares. By taking about 1700 measurements they found that its maximum depth is 230 m. But what stood out were "(1) the comparative simplicity of the basin ; (2) the deep shore-slope throughout the greater part of the loch; and (3) the large area of the lake-floor covered by very deep water.". "It seems quite possible, therefore, that Loch Ness may be the largest body of fresh water, not only in Great Britain, but in the United Kingdom.", they concluded.

KNOWN PHYSICAL PHENOMENA

In 1903, E. Maclagan-Wedderburn measured oscillations on the loch surface, of up to 11 cm, with periods of 31,5 minutes, 15,3 minutes and 8,8 minutes. Storms and earthquakes were apparently not the cause, but rather variations in atmospheric pressure. There are also water mass oscillations below the surface (with a period of about three days), particularly at a depth of 60 m, but without effects visible from above (discovered by E. Watson, 1904). It also presents microstructures of thermal origin, with likely impact on transparency (Simpson and Woods, 1970). Underwater thermal structures are richer in late summer (Thorpe, 1971). Underwater waves were detected between layers of different temperatures, of up to 10 m of amplitude, but without effects on the surface (Thorpe, Hall and Crofts, 1972). Loch Ness is a good natural laboratory for studying phenomena associated with turbulences (Thorpe, 1977). There is a direct relationship between sonar echoes underwater and wind speed (Thorpe and Stubbs, 1979). Echoes are air bubbles carried under water (Thorpe, 1980), down to several meters (Thorpe, 1982).

Various mirages occur on its surface, involving high mountains and distant vessels, due to the temperature difference between the water (which undergoes almost no change) and the air above it (Pullar and Murray, 1908). Several sightings of the "monster" can be related to optical phenomena of atmospheric distortion (Lehn, 1979). Some solar storms (McKinnon, 1972) can interfere with electronic equipment deployed at these latitudes (Sperling, 1994).

The bottom has five sediment types: dark gray mud, ferruginous mud, peaty mud, yellow-gray mud and brown sand (Lee, Collet and Wilson, 1908). Loch Ness is a product of the last Ice Age on the British Isles, more than 10 000 years ago (Sissons, 1979). Bottom sediments show marks of climatic variations (Cooper, 1998).

In 2001 L. Piccardi suggested that the "monster" could have a seismic origin.

KNOWN FAUNA

The watershed that feeds Loch Ness is so diversified that systematic chemical studies of its waters is complicated (Jenkins, 1993). In a separate article, the same scientist reported that some sediments extracted from a depth of 220 m are rich in organic material. Pockets of gas rising from the bottom were detected at two different places of the Loch's floor, one at a depth of 97 m and which remained active continuously for two weeks; the other place remains active for the entire summer, indicating decaying vegetation (Shine, 1993).

Phytoplankton is very poor, both in quantity and variety (Murray, 1904).

In the bottom, there are worms and small bivalve crustaceans, living in a stable environment, well oxygenated and with enough nutrients; crustaceans form 60% of the fauna of the deep (Martin, Shine and Duncan, 1993). As there are only four species of these, they perhaps enjoy or promote a very stable ecosystem (Griffiths and Martin, 1993).

There are seven species of fish (Maitland, 1981). The ​​most numerous are char (scientific name "Salvelinus alpinus"), brown trout ("Salmo trutta") and stickleback ("Gasterosteus aculeatus"), with a density of 300 to 1000 animals per hectare. About 80% are very small, appearing in the sonar as a continuous layer, rather than as individuals (Shine, Martin and Marjoram, 1993). Char is the most abundant fish (Shine, Kubečka, Martin and Duncan, 1993) and in Loch Ness it is sometimes eaten by the brown trout (Martin and Shine, 1993), a diet that would make the latter reach 1 meter in length.

The average density of fish in open waters is about 100 fishes per hectare (Kubečka, Duncan and Butterworth, 1992) and its concentration depends upon the distribution of sediments, which itself depends on currents (Shine, Martin, Bennett and Marjoram, 1993).

The Loch Ness is anything but a stagnant ecosystem, and indeed is being altered by humans (Bennett and Shine, 1993).

GOING MONSTER HUNTING

In 1933 the newspaper "Daily Mail" of London sent big game hunter Marmaduke Wetherell, in an expedition that would be followed in the pages of the newspaper, from 18 December to 19 January. Wetherell found strange footprints on the shore, but the Natural History Museum of London declared them fraudulent (as it would be later the famous "surgeon's photo", also attributed to the former). Finally, after weeks of following several tracks and listening with hydrophones, the hunter, the police and reporters found a large gray seal ("Halichoerus grypus") visiting the loch.

In July 1934, Edward Mountain recruited 20 people to monitor the waters, from sunrise to sunset for the span of a month. 21 photographs were taken, most of which were of poor quality, but 5 were good enough to try to enlarge them. After consulting with specialists, Mountain suggested that what was in them would be a large gray seal.  Only as late as 1960 a movie footage finally appeared, made by Tim Dinsdale, showing a large moving object leaving a trail.

In 1960 and 1962 Peter Baker brought people from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

In 1962 Peter Scott and David James established the "Loch Ness Investigation Project". The following year they recorded 40 sightings (both by volunteers of the project and by the general public), the next 18 more and in 1965 nine more anomalous observational phenomena. In the official report of that year they estimated that over 95% of the cases occurred when the water was calm and sunny (rare weather in Scotland). In the 1966 season there were 29 cases, of which only one included a "neck". By 1967 they already had about 150 volunteers watching the loch, collecting 23 sightings, but about 80% were of "humps" or "disturbances in the water". The report of 1968 recorded 14 sightings (discounting all "humps" viewed when a boat was passing by) and a calculation was published of a direct correlation between the number of sightings and the number of salmon migrating inland from the sea, in every season. Salmon ("Salmo salar") is probably the most important fish species from an economical standpoint in Loch Ness (Raynor, 2013). The number of cameras was already enough to cover 90% of the surface of Loch Ness. That year 32 000 tourists appeared interested in "the monster".

Professor Gordon Tucker, from the University of Birmingham, anchored a sonar to a pier in an attempt to detect any objects circulating through the loch. On 19 December 1968 the magazine "New Scientist" published readings showing a large object rising from the bottom.

By 1969 the project of Scott and James was supported with the monetary contribution of 1030 enthusiasts in 18 nations. There were 14 more sightings (three of them photographed). That year two submarines came to the loch, the "Viper-Fish" from the U.S. and the "Pisces", owned by the UK industrial manufacturer Vickers. Underwater currents were detected at great depth and at least one sonar echo, but the specially-prepared harpoon for biopsies never got to be within shooting distance. In addition, a boat with sonar prepared by Bod Love made ​​several passages from end to end of the loch and came to detect a large object moving in a circle.

On 9 August 1972, a team led by Robert Rines detected, using sonar, powerful movements underwater. They also presented a controversial underwater photograph of a purported fin.

In 1976, a certain person speculated on the possibility of more than one monster.

By 1980 the money became scarce and the constant vigils from the banks ended. However, the "hunters" complained that there was still much to do.

In 1982 Adrian Shine, using sonar, detected two more objects.

Between 1986 and 1987 the largest search with sonar was conducted, where several boats "scanned" the loch for about 1500 hours, supported by stations in the banks which also operated their equipment for another 1000 hours. According to Shine and David Martin, the readings suggest that the "objects" are actually different forms of turbulence, all-too normal and anything but "monstrous". Other sonar contacts would be fish, possibly including some of unusual size. Thermal differentials would also play an important role.

Rines continued working at Loch Ness for many years, until in 2001 he made ​​one of his last "sweeps", covering 90% of the water volume. Hardly-accessible places, such as near the side walls, were examined by a robot mini-submarine equipped with powerful lights, but without success.

Thus, the "Loch Ness Monster" is poised to share what the Belgian philosopher Etienne Vermeersch called "Lourdes effect": the "miracles" are never spectacular enough to convince without resorting to faith.

Aldo Loup.

FURTHER READING

Baker, Peter F. and Westwood, M. (1960), "Underwater detective work.", The Scotsman, 12, 13, 14 September 1960. 

Baker, Peter F. and Westwood, M. (1962), "Sounding out the Monster.", The Observer, 26 August 1962.

Bauer, Henry H. (2002), "The Case for the Loch Ness 'Monster': The Scientific Evidence.", Journal of Scientific Exploration, Volume 16, No. 2, pages 225–246, 2002, 0892-3310/02, ©2002 Society for Scientific Exploration.

Bennett, S. and Shine, Adrian J. (1993), "Review of Current Work on Loch Ness Sediment Cores.", The Scottish Naturalist, Volume 105, 1993, pages 55-63.

Braithwaite, H. (1968), "Sonar picks up stirrings in Loch Ness.", New Scientist, 19 December 1968, Volume 40, pages 664-666.

Cooper, M. C. (1998), "Laminated Sediments of Loch Ness, Scotland: Indicators of Holocene Environmental Change.", Ph.D. Thesis. University of Plymouth, 1998.

"Detection times and number densities of rare mobile organisms: Application to Loch Ness.", 1 May 1976, also published as "If there are any, could there be many?", Nature, Volume 264, page 497, 9 December 1976.

Dinsdale, Tim (1961), "Loch Ness Monster.", Routledge & Kegan Paul, 2nd edition, London, 1972, 3rd edition, London, 1976, 4th edition, London, 1982.

Gould, Rupert T. (1934), "The Loch Ness Monster and Others.", Geoffrey Bles, London, University Books, New York, 1969.

Griffiths, H. I. and Martin, David (1993), "The Spatial Distribution of Benthic Ostracods in the Profundal Zone of Loch Ness.", The Scottish Naturalist, Volume 105, 1993, pages 137-147.

James, David (1965), "The Loch Ness Investigation.", Report, 1965, Loch Ness Project Archive, Drumnadrochit, Loch Ness, Inverness-shire, Scotland.

James, David (1966), "The Loch Ness Investigation.", Annual Report, 1966, Loch Ness Project Archive, Drumnadrochit, Loch Ness, Inverness-shire, Scotland.

James, David (1967), "The Loch Ness Investigation.", Annual Report, 1967, Loch Ness Project Archive, Drumnadrochit, Loch Ness, Inverness-shire, Scotland.

James, David (1968), "The Loch Ness Investigation.", Annual Report, 1968, Loch Ness Project Archive, Drumnadrochit, Loch Ness, Inverness-shire, Scotland.

James, David (1969), "The Loch Ness Investigation.", Annual Report, 1969, Loch Ness Project Archive, Drumnadrochit, Loch Ness, Inverness-shire, Scotland.

Jenkins, P. H. (1993), "Results of Water Chemistry Study of Loch Ness.", The Scottish Naturalist, Volume 105, 1993, pages 45-54.

Jenkins, P. H. (1993), "Loch Ness Sediments: A Preliminary Report.", The Scottish Naturalist, Volume 105, 1993, pages 65-86.

Kubečka, J., Duncan, A., and Butterworth, A. J. (1993), "Large and Small Organisms Detected in the Open Waters of Loch Ness by Dual-Beam Acoustics.", The Scottish Naturalist, Volume 105, 1993, pages 175-193.

Lee, G. W. and Collet, L. W., with analysis of selected samples by Wilson, A. (1908), "The Deposits of Loch Ness.", The Geographical Journal, Volume 31, No. 1, 1908, pages 58-61.

Lehn, W. B., (1979) "Atmospheric refraction and lake monsters.", Science, Volume 205, 1979, pages 183-185.

Maitland, P. S., editor (1981), "The Ecology of Scotland's Largest Lochs Lomond, Awe, Ness, Morar and Shiel.", Monographiae Biologicae, Volume 44, Junk, The Hague, 1981.

Martin, David S. and Shine, Adrian J. (1993), "The Food and Feeding Relationships of Pelagic Fish in Loch Ness.", The Scottish Naturalist, Volume 105, 1993, pages 149-174.

Martin, David S., Shine, Adrian J. and Duncan, A. (1993), "The Profundal Fauna of Loch Ness and Loch Morar.", The Scottish Naturalist, Volume 105, 1993, pages 113-136.

McKinnon, John Angus, "August 1972 Solar Activity and Related Geophysical Effects.", Technical Memorandum ERL SEL-22, Space Environment Laboratory, Environmental Research Laboratories, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Boulder, Colorado, December 1972.

Memory, F. W. (1933), Daily Mail, 18 December 1933 - 19 January 1934.

Mountain, Edward (1934), "Solving the Mystery of Loch Ness.", The Field, 22 September 1934, pages 668-669.

Murray, John (1904), "The Biology of Lochs of the Ness Basin.", The Geographical Journal, Volume 24, 1904, pages 442-443.

Murray, John and Pullar, Laurence (1908), "Mirages on Loch Ness.", The Geographical Journal, Volume 31, 1908, pages 61-62.

Murray, John, and Pullar, Laurence (1910), "Bathymetric survey of the freshwater lochs of Scotland", in two volumes of text and four of maps, Challenger Office, Edinburgh, 1910.

Piccardi, L. (2001), "Fault-Related Sanctuaries", American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting, 2001, abstract #U52B-03.

Raynor, Dick (2013), personal communication, 25 January 2013.

Rines, Robert H.; Rines, Justice C.; Fish, John P.; Carr, Arnold H; Archer, James and Janerico, Ann (2001), "Preliminary Results of the Search for Mid-Water Objects in Loch Ness using a Chirp Side-Scan Sonar ‘Acoustic Net’ Technique.", The Hydrographic Journal, issue No. 102, October 2001.

Rines, Robert H.; Wyckoff, C.W.; Edgerton, H.E. and Klein, M. (1976), "Search for the Loch Ness Monster.", Technology Review, Volume 78, Issue 5, March/April 1976, pages 25-40.

Shine, Adrian J. (1980), "Loch Ness & Morar Project.", Report, 1980, Loch Ness Project Archive, Drumnadrochit, Loch Ness, Inverness-shire, Scotland.

Shine, Adrian J. (1983), "Loch Ness & Morar Project." Report, 1983, Loch Ness Project Archive, Drumnadrochit, Loch Ness, Inverness-shire, Scotland.

Shine, Adrian J. (1993), "Postscript: Surgeon or Sturgeon?", The Scottish Naturalist, Volume 105, 1993, pages 271-282.

Shine, Adrian J. and Martin, David S. (1988), "Loch Ness Habitats Observed by Sonar and Underwater Television.", The Scottish Naturalist, Volume 105, 1988, pages 111-199.

Shine, Adrian J.; Kubečka, J.; Martin, David S. and Duncan, A. (1993), "Fish Habitats in Loch Ness.", The Scottish Naturalist, Volume 105, 1993, pages 237-255.

Shine, Adrian J.; Martin, David S.; Bennett, S. and Marjoram, R. S. (1993), "Allochthonous Organic Inputs as an Explanation of Spatial Biomass Gradients Observed in the Pelagic and Profundal Zones of Loch Ness.", The Scottish Naturalist, Volume 105, 1993, pages 257-269.

Shine, Adrian J.; Martin, David S. and Marjoram, R. S. (1993), "Spatial Distribution and Diurnal Migration of the Pelagic Fish and Zooplankton in Loch Ness.", The Scottish Naturalist, Volume 105, 1993, pages 195-235.

Simpson, J. H. and Woods, J. D. (1970), "Temperature Microstructure in a Fresh Water Thermocline.", Nature, Volume 226, 1970, pages 832-834.

Sissons, J. B. (1979), "The Loch Lomond Stadial in the British Isles.", Nature, 19 July 1979, Volume 280, pages 199-203.

Sperling, Norman (1994), "Was the Loch Ness Monster an Aurora?", The Planetarian, Volume 23, No. 4, December 1994, pages 5, 53.

Thorpe, S. A. (1971), "Asymmetry of the Internal Seiche in Loch Ness.", Nature, Volume 231, 1971, pages 306-308.

Thorpe, S.A. (1977), "Turbulence and mixing in a Scottish loch.", Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series A, Volume 286, 1977, pages 125-181.

Thorpe, S. A. (1980), "Bubbles and breaking waves.", Nature, Volume 283, Issue 5746, 1980, pages 463-465.

Thorpe, S. A. (1982), "On the Clouds of Bubbles Formed by Breaking Wind-Waves in Deep Water, and their Role in Air-Sea Gas Transfer.", Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, Volume 304, Issue 1483, 1982, pages 155-210.

Thorpe, S. A.; Hall, A. and Crofts, I. (1972), "The internal surge in Loch Ness.", Nature, Volume 237, 1972, pages 96-98.

Thorpe, S. A. and Stubbs, A. R. (1979), "Bubbles in a freshwater lake.", Nature, Volume 279, Issue 5712, 1979, pages 403-405.

Watson, E. R. (1904), "Movements of the waters of Loch Ness, as indicated by temperature observations.", The Geographical Journal, Volume 24, 1904, pages 430-437.

Wedderburn, E. M. (1904), "Seiches Observed in Loch Ness.", The Geographical Journal, Volume 24, No.4, 1904, pages 441-442.


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Originally published in ABC Color, on 7 September 2008. Photograph: Loch Ness with Urquhart Castle in the foreground, 7 May 2005. Photo Credit: Sam Fentress (original license, of the photograph only, obtained at: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en). With permission from Sam Fentress.


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