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Mystery behind Africa's 'fairy circles' uncovered by scientist

The mysterious fairy circles, seen here in the Kunene region near Twyfelfontein. Scientists are still unsure of what causes these circles, found on most of the eastern margin of the Namib Desert. (Image: Flickr)

The mysterious fairy circles, seen here in the Kunene region near Twyfelfontein. Scientists are still unsure of what causes these circles, found on most of the eastern margin of the Namib Desert. (Image: Flickr)


Dalia Ibrahim
Digital Reporter

Saturday, September 7, 2013, 7:47 -

No Mulder and Scully needed here!

One researcher has uncovered the mystery that has stumped scientists for years: How did the random millions of patches of land form across southern Africa's Namib Desert? 

According to Michael Cramer, of the University of Cape Town in South Africa, the 'fairy circles' are a result of minimal rainfall and nutrient deficiencies in the soil, which cause increased competition between plants. 

The theory states that the stronger grasses absorb all of the water and nutrients from the soil, causing their weaker counterparts in the area to die. These barren patches in the landscape then become a reservoir for nutrients and water. 


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"We conclude that fairy circles are likely to be an emergent arid-grassland phenomenon that forms as a consequence of peripheral grass resource-competition," reported Cramer, in the journal PLOS ONE. "The consequent barren circle may provide a resource-reservoir essential for the survival of the larger peripheral grasses and provides a habitat for fossicking fauna." 

The diameter of fairy circles vary between 2 and 15 metres. Previous scientists studying the circles have observed that the smaller circles last for an average 24 years, while the larger ones can stick around for up to 75 years. 

Prior to this revelation, people have believed that the circles were formed as a result of sand termites, ants, or a poison-breathing dragon. 

To read Michael Cramer's full report, click here.

With files from livescience.com

Fairy circle up-close, courtesy of Jeremy T. Hetzel ; Taken on December 29, 2008 Khomas, NA (Image: Flickr)

Fairy circle up-close, courtesy of Jeremy T. Hetzel ; Taken on December 29, 2008 Khomas, NA (Image: Flickr)

The circles are to be found in a band about 160 km inland, stretching south from Angola for about 2,400 km. Located in a remote and inhospitable stretch of land that is over a hundred miles from the nearest village. These fairy circles were found in Fairy circles in Namibia's Marienfluss valley.

The circles are to be found in a band about 160 km inland, stretching south from Angola for about 2,400 km. Located in a remote and inhospitable stretch of land that is over a hundred miles from the nearest village. These fairy circles were found in Fairy circles in Namibia's Marienfluss valley.

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