UP researchers solve Namibia’s fairy circle riddle
Posted on 25 May 2012
It turns out that the origin of the fairy circles in Namibia is not a dragon that lives underneath the earth’s crust, whose breath travels to the surface in bubbles and burns the vegetation in nearly perfect circles.Although this Himba folk story, which has been told and believed for many years, is not true, they were actually not too far off with their idea: It is not the bubbles from the dragon’s breath that move through the earth and burn the vegetation on the surface, but natural gas.
The fairy circles are the phenomenon that is seen across Namibia and even the Northern Cape where bare patches of sand, in almost perfect circles, are surrounded by natural vegetation. Radioactive soil or toxins secreted by the Damara euphorbia were some of the other theories for the possible origin of these circles that have been tested. Some have even gone so far as to consider UFOs as a possible cause.
After years of research to test a number of these theories, the combined research team of the University’s departments of Plant Science and Chemistry may finally have come upon the correct explanation.
The research team collected soil samples from the fairy circles and planted seeds in them. They found that plants do not survive for very long in this soil, therefore the answer must lie in the bare soil of the circles. Chemical analysis showed that the plants most likely die due to natural gas that moves through underground cracks all the way to the surface of the earth. Because the soil has the same density over a large area, the gas, which comes through a small opening, spreads in a spherical shape and kills the plants in an almost perfect circle.
This new theory can now be tested as the possible origin for similar vegetation patterns elsewhere.
Language Editor: TuksAlumni