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Fairy Circles in Grasslands of Namibia Africa: Mystery for Scientists

Fairy Circles Namibia

Fairy Circles found in the sandy desert grasslands of Namibia in southern Africa will form and then disappear for years for no reason.

Tens of thousands of these Fairy Circles, which are bare patches of soil, 2 to 12 meters in diameter are making researchers scratch their heads in mystery.

Walter Tschinkel, biologist at Florida State University in Tallahassee, first noticed the fairy circles in 2005 on a safari trip to NamibRand Nature Reserve in southwest Namibia, in the Namib Desert. At first, he thought the circles were just from termites, but digs have shown no evidence of termite nests under a fairy circle.

Other explanations for the mysterious fairy circles are differences in soil nutrients or the death of seedlings by toxic vapors from the ground, haven’t been able to hold up to the truth in studies.

Tschinkel wanted to know more. So he took a look at satellite images over a 4-year period, he was able to confirm something other scientists had suspected; the circles were alive. A number of circles appeared and disappeared over this time period. From this data, Tschinkel calculated that smaller fairy circles appear and vanish every 24 years, whereas larger circles can last up to 75 years. While the overall lifespan averages to 41 years. With the smallest circles being about 6.5 feet (2 meters) in diameter, while the largest can be almost 40 feet (12 m) across.

The question still remains and needs to be answered, why do these fairy circles form and then vanish after decades? Study researcher Walter Tschinkel said, “The why question is very difficult. There are a number of hypotheses on the table, and the evidence for none of them is convincing. It’s like dying and going to heaven if you like remote, beautiful desert places”

He was able to determine that the fairy circles form only on sandy soil with minimal stoniness, and that they don’t form on shifting dunes or alluvial fans, where sands are deposited by water.

Very little is known about Fairy Circles and few researchers care to take the time to investigate into them. Tschinkel says. “There‚Äôs no program really focused on trying to figure this out. I’m not too worried that this mystery is going to be solved anytime soon.” He added that the persistence of the mystery makes it even more intriguing saying, “That’s science, isn’t it? If you knew the answer ahead of time, it wouldn’t be much fun.”

Fairy Circles Namib Desert

Tschinkel wants to return to the region where the fairy circles are to conduct tests at different times of year, as some of his data indicate that circles tend to form only after the rainy season. He also knows that he may never get to the bottom of what causes the fairy circles and that’s okay with him.

Fairy Circles

A clip from Mystery of the Fairy Circles.

Mystery of the Fairy Circles: http://bit.ly/MC2P36

Images: Mike and Ann Scott of the NamibRand Nature Reserve

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