Australian fairy circles

February 13th, 2024

Do fairy circles indicate the presence of hydrogen?

Project lead

Dr Ema Frery (18/01/2021 to 31/12/2021)

Dr Laurent Langhi, (1/1/22 to 17/1/23)

Leader researchers

Dr Ema Frery (18/01/2021 to 31/12/2021)

Dr Laurent Langhi, (1/1/22 to 17/1/23)

Mr Mederic Mainson


Are the Australian “fairy circles” hydrogen emitting features?

Hydrogen can be naturally produced by various processes in the subsurface, mostly coming from water which is separated from oxygen by diagenetic process or by radiolysis. Since H2 is the most abundant element in the universe the degassing of large reserves of deep seated H2 from the mantle or the Earth’s core have been also proposed. The most well-known process is the oxidation reaction between water and ferrous sediments resulting in their transformation to the ferric state with the release of H2. This process is the best candidate to explain the high hydrogen flux measured above surface depressions in Brazil, Mali, United-States and Russia.

Those circular depressions are called fairy circles and numerous occurrences of the same type of features are observable in Australia. So we ask the following question: is Australia rich in multiple natural hydrogen potential reservoirs or are we simply observing salt lakes?

What we are doing

This project is about going on the field, measuring the soil-gas and closely monitoring potential surface evidence of H2 free gas seepage to better understand the Australian hydrogen system.

Fairy circles have been observed in Russia United States, Brazil, Mali, and Australia.

Outcomes to date

We demonstrated the existence of natural hydrogen seeps in Australia, with the exploration of some ‘fairy circles’.

The work has grown to other capabilities across the Energy Business Unit as well as cross-CSIRO with research in microbiology, fluid inclusions, iron-rich rock characterisation and hydrogen generation trials in the lab.

This project led to two CSIRO Kick-start projects with small companies starting the explore for hydrogen in South Australia as well as a large research project with the lead company who first started to explore in Australia for natural hydrogen in Australia. 

CSIRO is now one of the world leading research institutes in the domain of natural hydrogen exploration and became a trusted advisor in this new frontier.

Lessons learned

Hydrogen leakage at the surface is one element of a larger system that need to be studied with a holistic approach.

Soil-gas leakage at the surface is function of multiple parameters and need to be studied with caution.

Project finish date

January 2023

Relevant project publications

Frery, E., Langhi, L., Maison, M., & Moretti, I. (2021). Natural hydrogen seeps identified in the North Perth Basin, Western Australia. International Journal of Hydrogen Energy46(61), 31158-31173. 38 citations

Mainson, M., Heath, C., Pejcic, B., & Frery, E. (2022). Sensing hydrogen seeps in the subsurface for natural hydrogen exploration. Applied Sciences12(13), 6383. 6 citations

Frery, E., Langhi, L., & Markov, J. (2022). Natural hydrogen exploration in Australia–state of knowledge and presentation of a case study. The APPEA Journal62(1), 223-234. 5 citations