First we thought it was eggs. Scientists now say the mysterious orange substance washing up on Alaskan shores was fungal spores. Which one of those is the grosser option? Remains hard to say.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association gave the world their updated diagnosis on Thursday. The Juneau NOAA lab had initially said they thought the goo was microscopic eggs, perhaps from crustaceans. Upon further inspection, NOAA now says they think it’s a “rust” fungus, one that causes a plant-only disease in which leaves and stems go rust-colored.
But don’t worry. Plenty of mystery (and potential for apocalyptic/alien musings) still remains. The scientists at NOAA say that they’ve never seen rust spores like this before, though one noted to CNN that “many rust fungi of the Arctic tundra have yet to be identified.” Rust fungi can affect plants from wheat to junipers to gooseberries, though they are not dangerous to humans, beyond aggravating respiratory and allergic reactions as spores generally do.
The residents of the small village of Kivalina (pop. 388), where the goo washed up, may still have questions. The fungal goo that washed up earlier this month has now dissipated, but it remains to be seen if it has any lasting effects—on the people, the drinking water or the environment. Researchers should have more answers as their foraging goes on. (To get into the nitty-gritty science of it all, check out this report from Discovery News.)