Scientists say they’ve solved the mystery of the Namib Desert’s ‘pretty circles’
- Desert Fairy Rings are circular areas with no vegetation.
- They are circular gaps in the grasslands that form a pattern across the Namibian desert.
- Now, scientists claim to have deciphered the phenomenon.
You may have seen beautiful and inexplicable photographs of the fairy circles of the Namib Desert. They have been around for almost 50 years.
Namib coastal desert in southern Africa. It stretches south from the Carunjamba River in Angola to the Olifants River in the Western Cape, South Africa, along the Atlantic coasts of Angola, Namibia and South Africa.
Desert Fairy Rings are circular areas with no vegetation. Rings of grass often encircle these trees 7 to 49 feet in diameter.
These circles have been a mystery for nearly 50 years. Now, scientists claim to have deciphered the phenomenon.
Namibia’s coastal desert has millions of fairy circles 80 to 140 km from the coast. They are circular gaps in the grasslands that form a pattern across the desert.
The cause of the phenomenon is unknown. The grass was eaten by termites or the plants were self-organizing.
Studies suggest that termites and self-organization can cause fair circles. After comparable circles emerged in Australia in 2019, the explanations were questioned. These were not related to termites.
According to a study from the University of Göttingen, Germany, circles in the soil die and the grass around them survives and thrives due to planted water stress.
The secrets of Namibia’s fairy circles demystified: plants organize themselves. Researchers @uniGoettingen show that plant water stress and not termites cause mysterious #FairyCircles @GetzinStephan. Read the article for free on ScienceDirect: https://t.co/u7vvnv33RT pic.twitter.com/K1NZtGZ4Ia
— Elsevier Environment (@ELSenviron) October 20, 2022
The investigation was aided by two good rainy seasons in the Namibian desert, which killed the grass in the circles.
This disproved the barrenness of the desert caused by termites.
Scientists found through soil moisture measurements during the 2020 dry season and the 2022 rainy season that the grasses around the circles reduced the water inside the circles.
“The sudden absence of grass in most areas inside the circles cannot be explained by termite activity because there was no biomass for these insects to feed on,” said the Dr Stephan Getzin, Department of Ecosystem Modelling, University of Göttingen.
“But more importantly, we can show that termites are not responsible because the grasses die off immediately after rain without any sign of root-feeding creatures,” he said.