"Sea Snot" Explosion Caused by Gulf Oil Spill?

Marine "snowstorm" possibly crippled base of Gulf of Mexico food chain.

These particularly slimy flakes of "marine snow" are made up of tiny dead and living organic matter, according to Uta Passow, a biological oceanographer at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Tiny plants in the ocean called phytoplankton produce a mucus-like substance when stressed, and it's possible that exposure to the Deepwater Horizon oil caused them to pump out more of the sticky stuff than usual.

This abundance of "mucus" made the naturally occurring marine-snow particles—usually about a few millimeters wide—even stickier.

"Everything they collide with in their path they collect and take with them," said project leader Passow, who's currently tracking marine snow aboard the research vessel Oceanus.

Based on surface observations and oily layers of dead plankton found on the seafloor, the

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