Rare ‘fairy circles’ discovered in Western Australia 

Posted: March 15, 2016 by oldbrew in News, research

Fairy circles in Namibia's Marienfluss valley  [image credit: Thorsten Becker]

Fairy circles in Namibia’s Marienfluss valley
[image credit: Thorsten Becker]

Similar circles have only previously been found in Namibia, as ABC News reports. With regard to the hexagonal formations, the researchers say: ‘we demonstrate that these patterns emerge by self-organization.’

The chance discovery of ‘fairy-circles‘ in Western Australia’s Pilbara region is providing new insight into one of nature’s enduring puzzles.

The circles, which are regularly spaced patches of bare soil that form in uniform hexagonal patterns throughout arid grasslands, had until recently only been confirmed in Namibia in south-western Africa.

But in 2014, fairy circle expert Dr Stephan Getzin from the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research was alerted to the presence of similar rings in vegetation 15 kilometres to the east to south-east of Newman in the Pilbara by Australian environmental scientist and study co-author, Dr Bronwyn Bell.

Many theories have been raised over the years about how the mysterious patterns form in arid areas, but the latest research has indicated plants were organising themselves according to the scarce water availability. Dr Todd Erickson, from the Restoration Seed Bank Initiative at the University of Western Australia, said the strange pattern was very visible when flying into the small mining town. When viewed from above, groups of fairy circles form repeating hexagonal shapes, with six bare patches about four metres in diameter spaced about 10 metres away from each other around a central focal point to form the points of the hexagon.

“You don’t see them from the ground,” said Dr Erickson, another study author who has been working in the Pilbara for the last eight years. “You can be standing inside a fairy circle and not see the next one 10 metres away; to find them, you need to spot them from the air. “People have known about [the circles] for years but no-one with the skills of Stephan have actually gone out there and actually mapped them from the landscape scale.”

Analysis of aerial photographs and spatial patterns of vegetation by the team, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed Australian and African fairy circles are almost identical, despite being more than 10,000 kilometres apart.

Full report: Rare ‘fairy circles’ discovered near Newman in Western Australia – Science News – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

The analysis notes: ‘The remarkable match between the patterns of Australian and Namibian fairy circles and model results indicate that both patterns emerge from a non-uniform stationary instability, supporting a central universality principle of pattern-formation theory.’

  1. oldbrew says:

    ‘fairy circle expert’ – there can’t be many of those 😉

  2. dp says:

    The area around the Mt. Shasta volcano in California has unusual circular mounds that can be seen on Google Earth. They stretch for miles along Hwy 5 and are visible. I’ve walked around them trying to sort out what they might represent. Closest I’ve come to is there were once large trees there that captured repeated ash fall from the volcano and cinder cones that dot the area. Others have suggested mineral springs but digging doesn’t reveal any trace of deposits. The mounds have to sign of any kind that running water was involved – they have undisturbed surfaces. They’re maybe 10 meters across and 15 cm or so in height. All the circles in this sky view map are mounds as described.


  3. dp says:

    The map URL didn’t work right – Microsoft thing, I think. Select Airal view and zoom in. Then have a look around this really lovely place, especially Mt. Shasta.

  4. E.M.Smith says:

    There is another “Fairy Circle” that comes from mushroom or other fungi growing outward from a point and consuming dead plants in the process.

    I’d conduct a fungus assay in and out of the circle and compare…

  5. USteiner says:

    and I’d check for methane coming up from the ground and compare …

  6. erl happ says:

    C’mon guys, I would be looking for the fairies.

  7. Wayne Job says:

    Oz has been described as the lucky country, now it is confirmed we have fairies, we are on a roll.

  8. hunter says:

    That is really cool.

  9. […] An attempt last year to explain the Australian version of this phenomenon was covered here. […]