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    “Fairy circles” in Namibia

    German Scientist REVEALS New Facts About African 'Fairy Circles'

    CC BY-SA 3.0 / Stephan Getzin
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    The phenomenon of circles of barren land without vegetation commonly found in Namibia and Western Australia has been puzzling scientists for years, as they have so far failed to agree on a theory explaining it. One recent hypothesis has claimed that sand termites are behind the formation of the circles.

    German ecologist from the University of Göttingen Stephan Getzin has recently completed research on the "fairy circles" phenomenon in Namibia and Australia, debunking the popular theory that they are created by sand termites to keep the vegetation from dying in dry regions, as the circles help the soil to better retain moisture from rain.

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    During his research Getzin failed to find thermite highways underneath the circles. What is more, a drone survey of land that is certainly affected by termites shows that it looks different from what can be seen in "fairy circles".

    "The vegetation gaps caused by harvester termites are only about half the size of the fairy circles and much less ordered", Getzin said.

    He further noted that areas affected by the termites sometimes overlap with the fields of circles, but added that the correlation between them "has no causal relationship".

    The German ecologist's research also added new facts about the "fairy circles" to be considered. Specifically, he pointed out that by focusing on the dotted fields in Namibia, researchers had overlooked the fact that barren patches of land can be found in other forms and on other scales. A study of Google Maps satellite images of the land revealed that the phenomenon could take other shapes than just circles and be over 20 metres wide, while "fairy circles" reach a maximum of around 15 metres.

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    "Fairy circles" are circular-shaped patches of barren land, surrounded by vegetation. These circles vary in diameter from 2 to 15 metres and are mostly seen in the Namibian desert. However, since 2014 they have also spotted in the Western Australia. While the scientific community is still struggling to understand the phenomenon, locals ascribe supernatural origins to them, such as gods or deities touching the land. 

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