The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration discovered Thursday the orange goo that washed ashore earlier this month in the village of Kivalina is actually fungal spores, and not microscopic eggs as was originally determined.
Scientists at the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center’s Auke Bay Laboratories previously announced the substance was a collection of eggs from an unidentified species. However, scientists at NOAA’s National Ocean Service Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research in Charleston, S.C. took a closer look and determined the samples were consistent with spores from a rust fungus. Rust is a disease that affects plants and causes a rust-like appearance on leaves and stems.
Research oceanographer and principal investigator Steve Morton of the Charleston lab said the analysis was made after looking at the goo through a scanning microscope that uses electrons instead of light. He said this can magnify objects more than 300 times more than the equipment in Auke Bay can. Such equipment is specialized to analyze microbiologic phenomena such as this.
Morton said the goo could easily be mistaken as eggs without the specialized equipment.
Morton said the spores are definitely natural and not man-made. He said the bright orange color is a natural pigment of the spore itself.
At this time, the lab cannot identify the exact species — or if it belongs to one of the 7,800 known rust fungi species.
“At this point, the best identification we can give to as the origin of these spores is a rust fungus,” Morton said in a release. “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.”
Morton said they don’t have any information on toxicity possibilities. He said the fungi only affect other plants, but the spores which are released into the air could cause allergic reactions or respiratory issues.
He said NOAA won’t perform toxicity tests. Those would be done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or by the U.S. Department of Agriculture if there is a concern for public health.
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