The Quick Report

Scientists Confused by ‘Fairy Rings’ Found All Over the Globe

Scientists using artificial intelligence (AI) have discovered mysterious “fairy rings,” unusual round vegetation patterns that exist in hundreds of locations across the globe. The cause of the phenomenon is unclear.

Experts have long been aware of these unexplained circles which dot landscapes across the world, such as those in the Australian outback and the Namib Desert.

A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which employed the use of AI, took a look at these strange circles. However, what researchers came up with only raised more questions than answers. Soon they discovered that the phenomenon was more widespread than previously thought, Futurism reported.

Global AI Search Reveals a Pattern

The scope of the project was massive. First, it involved an international research team. The scientists used and trained a massive neural network. The researchers fed the AI more than 15,000 satellite images of locations in Namibia and Australia. Approximately half those contained fairy rings.

Researchers gathered satellite views of more than half a million 2.5-acre plots of land around the world. They then tasked artificial intelligence with the massive chore of analyzing the images. The AI identified circles that were similar to those previously found in Nambia and Australia. They were observed across 15 countries in more than 263 dryland locations.

The new locations with fairy rings were found across Africa, Western Asia, Southwest Australia, and Madagascar. One factor that locations had in common was that the rings were found predominantly in hot, sandy spots. They received anywhere between four to 12 inches of rainfall annually.

Questions of Origin Remain

While the researchers were able to find a pattern in terms of climate and weather conditions, the mechanism behind what causes the circles to form remains a mystery. Scientists are unable to determine whether all of these circles are a product of the same naturally occurring mechanisms or attributable to some other cause.

“In all arid regions of the world various types of bare patches exist, which are caused by different processes,” said Norbert Jürgens, an emeritus ecologist at the University of Hamburg. Jürgens was not involved in the research, but offered an opinion to the New York Times.


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The opinions among experts as to the cause of the fairy rings vary widely, with no firm consensus. Some suggest they are created by self-organizing plants. Others believe they are the results of termite activity occurring underneath the soil, CNN reported.