Why Life Thrives in the Misty Namib Desert | Sciences | In-depth science and technology report | DW
We all know the golden rule: where there is water, there is life.
But water can take many forms – it doesn’t have to appear as rain or streams. And in the Namib Desert, water comes in the form of fog.
This is all due to the Benguela Current, a cold oceanic current that carries icy waters from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean to the western coasts of South Africa and Namibia.
“The Benguela Current interacts with the warm humidity above the sea surface,” says Roland Mushi, a research technician at the Gobabeb Training and Research Center in Namibia, in the middle of the Namib Desert.
“The humidity is cooled to form dew and then fog,” Mushi continues.
The prevailing southwest winds push the fog into the desert.
Gobabeb – a desert research center in the middle of the Namib
There aren’t many hazy deserts like the Namib, but Chile’s Atacama Desert is another example.
Three hundred foggy days
Swakopmund on the Atlantic coast of Namibia is a beautiful city, with its German colonial architecture, but the fog sometimes drives the locals crazy.
The city is in a hot spot where fog forms. Thus, the people of Swakopmund experience around 300 foggy days each year.
Fog forms early in the morning and stays for several hours, until around 10 a.m., when it is warm enough for the fog to clear.
As the people of Swakopmund complain about the fog, life in the desert desperately awaits.
The fog on the dunes dissipates in the air before noon
Evolution at its best
Desert plants like Welwitschia and Nara evolved to absorb fog water through very fine roots or their stems, respectively. These plants only grow in Namib.
Plus, beetles and other desert insects collect moisture from fog – and have found some pretty peculiar ways to do so.
The fog beetle, for example, collects water by pushing its butt up in the air. The fog condenses on its bottom and water droplets flow towards its mouth so that the animal can drink.
Another species of beetle, Lepidochora porti, digs trenches in which fog collects and condenses. Geckos, snakes, birds, and many other animals feed on beetles.
Almost 300 animal species exist in the Namib Desert’s only dune field. More than half of them do not exist anywhere else in the world.
The region is classified as a natural World Heritage Site due to its beauty and biological value.