Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Ghosts, ghouls and disappearing pools...By Kirstin Lemon

The remote upland lake of Loughareema in Co. Antrim is known to most people in Northern Ireland as the vanishing lake. Its bleak and isolated location means that it is frequently shrouded in fog, and coupled with the fact that it is surrounded by bleak blanket bog means that it is not the most inviting place to stop for a picnic.

View of empty Loughareema
To most people, Loughareema is best known for its ghost stories. Local legend tells us of the drowning of a coach and horses in the 19th century as they tried to cross the lake when it was full. Bizarrely, a road had been built through the lake when it was empty so in the dead of night it was impossible to tell if water levels were high or low. It is said that on nights when the lake is full, a phantom ghost haunts the shoreline, and together with the prospect of the sight of a kelpie, or water-ghoul, Loughareema is not short of a story.

To scientists, Loughareema is regarded as one of Northern Ireland's most enigmatic geological sites. This ephemeral or temporary lake lives up to its title as the vanishing lake as it may be empty of water one day and be completely full the next. 

The mechanism for drainage at Loughareema has baffled scientists for years, adding to the mystery of the site, but all of that is about to change. Dr Paul Wilson, an expert in the distribution and movement of water within rocks with the British Geological Survey, has recently embarked on a detailed study of Loughareema. He explains more:


Same view of Loughareema with high water
"Loughareema is a dynamic landscape and on approach to the lake it's exciting to guess what state it will be in. The water disappears into an underground drainage system, the details of which we currently know very little about. This new study will be in two parts; the first uses a camera to take time lapse images of the lake, hopefully capturing it filling and emptying; the second will use water level loggers at various location to measure the rate that the lake is filling and emptying."

The study is ongoing and the first images from the time lapse photography are beginning to come through, recording for the first time the emptying and filling of the lake. This exciting project perhaps won't shed any light on the ghosts of Loughareema, but it will be able to solve the mystery of the disappearing water, and lead to a better understanding of the entire drainage system. 

To find out more about the Loughareema project, contact Dr Paul Wilson at paul.wilson@detini.gov.uk







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