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Scientists Have Finally Solved the Mystery Behind Namibia's Strange Fairy Circles

Jan 19, 2017 05:15 AM EST
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A new study has finally offered some new insights regarding the formation of the so-called "Fairy Circles" that litter the dry grasslands of the Namib Desert in the southwestern coast of Africa.

The study, published in the journal Nature, showed that the presence of the strange circles of barren land accentuated by a rim of tall grass can be well explained by combining two of the best theories explaining its formation.

There have been many theories regarding the formation of the fairy circles. These theories range from the supernatural, such as the "feet of gods' and aliens, to more scientific explanations, including poison gas, industrious termites and self-organizing plants.

Out of those theories, scientists have been long debating between the termite hypothesis and self-organizing plant hypothesis. Now, a team of mathematicians decided to put the theories together.

"Only by considering the interaction between both termites and vegetation self-organization can we obtain such a comprehensive description of all the main properties reported for Fairy Circles," explained Juan A. Bonachela, an assistant professor from the University of Strathclyde and a co-author of the new study, in a report from Gizmodo.

For the study, the researchers tried to recreate the vegetation patterns of the fairy circles using the two theories separately and together. In their simulations, the researchers were able to reproduce the same large-scale hexagonal pattern.

The researchers hypothesize that sand termites called Psammotermes allocerus create the bare patches by killing the plants above them. These patches facilitate water accumulation underneath the soil. As the moisture continue to increase in the patch, plants takes advantage of the additional water source by spreading their plastic-like roots underneath the patch, creating the vegetation ring at the outer boundary of the fairy circle.

While the new research can readily be applied in similar landscapes that features similar strange circles, the researchers noted that it is still not clear whether the similar model can be applied to every situation.

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