The Log Ness Monster

It is interesting that despite the evidence of science, myths continue to be perpetuated in the face of such evidence. One such myth is the Loch Ness monster. The solution to the sightings appeared in an article by Robert Craig, published in the New Scientist in 1982, but it is most often conveniently overlooked.

Fake photos aside, such as the most famous plesiosaur-like neck sticking out of the water, there is no doubt that there have been sightings of something in the water at Loch Ness, one of the four very deep Scottish lochs (or lakes), this one almost 750 feet deep. At two other deep lakes, Loch Morar and Loch Tay, there have also been “monster” sightings. The fourth deep lake is Loch Lomond, but there have been no sightings here.

One other very deep lake should be included in this group, but this one is not in Scotland. It is Lake Seljordsvatnet in Norway. It belongs in this group because there have also been “monster” sightings there.

What do these lakes have in common, apart from the “monster” sightings? Why have there been no sightings at Loch Lomond, a lake that appears similar to the others in all respects?

The answer has to do with a kind of tree, the Scots Pine (Pinus Sylvestris). These lochs were once surrounded by large forests of Scots Pines, including the lake in Norway. The exception in our list is Loch Lomond, which had no pine forests.

The “monster” starts with a Scots Pine, a very resinous, tarry tree, falling in the water. It becomes waterlogged and sinks to the bottom where the pressure is equal to about twenty-five atmospheres. Here under this enormous pressure, the log begins to decay, forming small bubbles of gas. The gas is trapped by the sticky resin, which gradually expands out of the log. Eventually enough gas bubbles form to lift the log off the bottom, and it begins to rise.

As the log nears the surface, the outside pressure decreases; the bubbles begin to expand rapidly and start bursting. At the surface they explode, partially breaking the log into pieces, churning the water violently until all the gas is released.  Some of the pieces fly up, and occasionally a trunk is momentarily ejected as the log disintegrates. Quickly the gases are released and the log sinks back down, heavier than water, never to rise again.

Remnants of such logs have been found ashore.  The process of decay and building up gases can take as long as a century, and because it is almost that long since the surrounds were populated by those trees, the age of the “monster” sightings is practically over.

The decay of these logs only occurs in very deep lochs, since very high pressure is needed to build up buoyancy in the logs. Naturally, it will only happen where the right kind of logs lie deep in the water. The conditions were right at Loch Morar and Loch Tay, and the famous Loch Ness in Scotland. They were also right at Lake Seljordsvatnet in Norway. These are the lakes with “monsters”.

So why do we ignore the evidence of science? Has too much mystery gone out of this world? I suspect this is the reason why we want to hang on to our notions of UFOs and aliens, of Big Foot and the Yeti, and of the one that we regard most affectionately, the Loch Ness monster.