The mysterious orange colored goo that washed up on the shores of an Alaskan village a few weeks ago turns out to be a mass of fungal spores, not microscopic eggs as an initial analysis indicated, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said Thursday.
As per standard scientific procedure, the strange orange substance was sent off to a NOAA lab in South Carolina for further testing after the initial results from the Juneau laboratory were released.
At NOAA's National Ocean Service Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, based in Charleston, S.C., a team of scientists did a follow-up examination on a sample sent from Alaska and determined that the material was consistent with spores from a fungi that cause rust, a disease that infects only plants, causing a rust-like appearance on leaves and stems.
The new analysis corrected an announcement made last week by Alaska-based NOAA scientists, who had initially identified the mysterious substance as millions of microscopic eggs filled with fatty droplets.
But there is still one mystery left. It is unknown whether the spore are among the 7,800 known species of rust fungi, according to NOAA.
“At this point, the best identification we can give to as the origin of these spores is a rust fungus. The spores are unlike others we and our network of specialists have examined; however, many rust fungi of the Arctic tundra have yet to be identified,” said, Steve Morton, Ph.D., with the NOAA Charleston lab.
The goo, found at the edge of Kivalina, an Inupiat Eskimo community at the tip of a barrier reef on Alaska's northwest coast, quickly disappeared.
It was also found in the Wulik River, which flows into the lagoon and is a source of drinking water for the villagers. Villagers have suspended storing water from the river till the scientists determine what exactly the material is.
The sticky orange material, which dried into a powder, has washed away from Kivalina, said Julie Speegle, a spokeswoman for NOAA's National Fisheries Service in Alaska, Reuters reported.
Speegle said the material was likely harmless. Rust is a disease that only affects plants, so there's no cause for alarm,