Mysterious “fairy circles” have been discovered in hundreds of places around the world, a new study claims


fairy circles:Discs of barren dirt known as “fairy circles” look like rows of dots and can spread for miles across the ground. The mysterious origin of this phenomenon has intrigued scientists for decades, and it may be much more extensive than previously thought. Previously, fairy circles had only been found in the dry lands of South Africa’s Namib Desert and the outback of Western Australia. But a new study used artificial intelligence to identify circle-like vegetation patterns in hundreds of new locations in 15 countries on three continents. This could help scientists understand fairy circles and their formation around the world. In the new study, published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers analyzed a dataset containing high-resolution satellite images of arid regions, or arid ecosystems with low rainfall, from around the world. Finding patterns like fairy circles uses neural networks, a type of artificial intelligence that processes information in a brain-like manner. “Using artificial intelligence-based patterns in satellite imagery, this is the first large-scale detection of fairy-tale circle-like patterns,” said study leader Emilio Giraldo, a data scientist at the Multidisciplinary Environmental Institute. Emilio Guirado, Ph.D. . e-mail studied at the University of Alicante, Spain.

Hundreds of potential Adventure Circle locations

First, the study authors trained a neural network to recognize fairy circles by feeding it more than 15,000 satellite images taken in Namibia and Australia. Half of the pictures show fairy circles, and half don’t. The researchers then fed the AI ​​a dataset containing satellite images of nearly 575,000 parcels of land around the world, each about 2.5 acres (1 hectare) in size. The neural network scanned the vegetation in these images and identified repeating circular patterns similar to known fe-circle patterns. It estimated the size and shape of the circles as well as their location, pattern density, and distribution.
The results of the analysis must be reviewed manually, Girardeau said. “Based on photo interpretation and the context of the area, we had to manually discard some man-made and natural structures that weren’t fairy circles,” he explained. The results showed that 263 terrestrial sites had circular patterns similar to the fairy circles in Namibia and Mexico. Australia. These dry patches are distributed throughout Africa (Sahel, Western Sahara, and the Horn of Africa) and are concentrated in Madagascar, western Central Asia, and central and southwestern Australia. 

fairy circles
So-called fairy circles, or bare patches forming patterns that can span miles, are shown at the edge of the Namib Desert in Namibia.
Credit: Dressler/imageBROKER/Shutterstock

Circle pattern recognition

Fairy circles aren’t the only natural phenomenon that can create circular, repetitive patches of bareness in the landscape. One factor that distinguishes fairy circles from other types of vegetation gaps is the highly ordered pattern between the circles, said Dr. Stephan Gerzin, researcher at the Department of Ecosystem Modeling, University of Göttingen, Germany. Getzin and colleagues published a paper in November 2021 that defined fairy circles and what makes them unique, highlighting details about the overall structure of the patterns, he told CNN in an email. Gerzin, who was not involved in the latest study, said the newly discovered patterns do not go far enough. “Fairy circles are defined by their ability, in principle, to form’spatially periodic’ patterns that are “significantly more ordered” than other patterns, and none of the study’s patterns clearly met that high standard, Grid said. Jin said.

But there really isn’t a universally accepted definition of an adventure arc, Giraldo said. He and his co-authors identified potential fairy circles by referring to guidelines established in several published studies — measuring the size and shape of individual circles as well as the patterns they form together. The rates of these spatial patterns are “pretty much the same” in the old and new fairy circles, he said. Some of the newly discovered places have been explored by Dr. Fiona Walsh, who was part of an international team studying fairy circles in suburban Australia. “The pattern of distribution in Australia appears to be consistent with some of what we’ve reported previously,” says ethnoecologist Walsh of the University of Western Australia. Walsh was not involved in the new investigation.

The mysterious origin of the fairy world

The study authors also collected data on the environments where the circles were found and collected evidence that might suggest why they formed. Fe-circle patterns are most likely to occur in sandy soils that are very dry, high in alkalinity, and low in nitrogen, the researchers determined. Scientists have also found that fairy-tale-like patterns help stabilize ecosystems and make areas more resilient to disturbances such as floods or extreme drought. But the question is, “What makes fairy circles?” The authors of the study report that fairy circles are complex, and the factors that shape fairy circles can vary by location. Gerzin previously wrote that certain climatic conditions, as well as the self-organization of plants in Namibia, create fairy circles. Although insects such as termites take advantage of dry patches, their activity does not directly create patterns, he said in an email. to explain However, Walsh said Australian fairy circles are inextricably linked to termite activity. Their team, working closely with Aboriginal people, discovered that in Western Australia and the Northern Territory, termites are characteristic of the feature of fairy circles, known as ‘linyji’ in the Manjilijar language and ‘linyji’ in the Warlpiri language. “Mingkirri,” she told CNN in an email. “Aboriginal people have been describing these patterns since at least the 1980s and say they’ve known them for generations and possibly thousands of years earlier,” Walsh said.

“Termites are not just ‘doing their thing’ in Australia,” she added. “These are the primary mechanisms, and termite-grass-soil-water dynamics must be central to the explanation.”

Many questions about the fairy circles remain unanswered, and the authors of the new study are optimistic that their global atlas will open a new chapter in the study of these strange deserts.

“We hope that the information we publish in our paper will provide scientists around the world with new areas of research to solve new puzzles in fairy circle formation,” Giraldo said.



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