Indiana University Researchers Examine Namibian Fairy Circles


Researchers at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis examined one of nature's greatest mysteries in hopes of adding more insight to how the Namibian fairy circles were formed. These formations are found in the eastern, interior margin of the Namib Desert.

The Namibian fairy circles stretches from southern Angola to northern South Africa. They vary in size from about 12 feet to about 114 feet and consist of bare patches of soil surrounded by rings of grass.

There have been a lot of speculations as to how these fairy circles were formed. IUPUI researcher Lixin Wang said that analysis on the formation, structure and growth of vegetation patterns and how they interact with Earth's water cycle can provide more understanding of vital processes that are at the core of the dynamics of water-limited ecosystems, reported.

Wang is an ecohydrologist in the School of Science at IUPUI. Other researchers involved in the study are IUPUI Ph.D. student Kudzai Farai Kaseke, Sujith Ravi and Ilya Buynevich of Temple University, and Eugene Marais of the National Museum of Namibia.

Their study is entitled "Ecohydrological interactions within 'fairy circles' in the Namib Desert: Revisiting the self-organization hypothesis." It has been published in the "Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences."

The researchers found evidence that supports the self-organization hypothesis of the Namibian fairy circle formation. This theory claims that the circular vegetation pattern is created because of competition for scarce water. The bare patches are said to have percolated more rainfall and act as water reservoirs for the grass along the edges of the circle.

The team conducted extensive measurements of infiltration rate, soil moisture, grass biometric and sediment grain-size distribution from several circles and the spaces between them. According to Science Daily, fast water infiltration rates were recorded within the inner portion of the circles.

This meant that the grass places its roots on the inner side of the ring, competing for water. When it rains, water flows to the edge of the circles where the roots can take water for their use.

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