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Mysterious fairy circles appear in Australian Outback

Courtesy: Borwyn Bell/Government of Western Australia

Courtesy: Borwyn Bell/Government of Western Australia

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Friday, March 18, 2016, 3:35 PM - For the first time, fairy circles -- regularly-spaced, round patches of bare earth surrounded by grass that can be as large as 49 feet in diametre -- have been spotted in the Australian Outback.

Prior to the chance discovery, the circles had only ever been observed in Namibia.

In 2014, fairy circle expert Stephan Getzin from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research was made aware of the circles in Australia's Pilbara region.

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The circles could be seen from an airplane.

Scientists have known about this phenomena for some time, but they aren't sure what causes their formation.

File photo of fairy circles in Namibia

"You don't see them from the ground," Todd Erickson, another fairy circle expert, told the CBC.

"You can be standing inside a fairy circle and not see the next one 10 metres away; to find them, you need to spot them from the air.

"People have known about [the circles] for years but no-one with the skills of Stephan have actually gone out there and actually mapped them from the landscape scale."

Number of theories

Scientists have come up with a number of theories about fairy circles.

A 2013 study by Michael Cramer from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, suggests the circles are the result of minimal rainfall and nutrient deficiencies in the soil, which causes increased competition between plants. 

"We conclude that fairy circles are likely to be an emergent arid-grassland phenomenon that forms as a consequence of peripheral grass resource-competition," Cramer's study, which was published in the journal PLOS ONE says.

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"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." 

Past studies have observed some of 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, some believed that the circles were formed as a result of sand termites, ants, or a poison-breathing dragon.

Source: CBC 


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