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Underwater Forest: Scientists Explore 2,500-Year-Old Cypress Trees In the Gulf of Mexico

Travelers Today       By    Karen Fredrickson

Updated: Jul 09, 2013 10:17 AM EDT

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Cypress Trees
An underwater Cypress forest was discovered off the coast of Alabama.(Photo : Wikimedia)

Scuba divers have discovered a primeval underwater forest in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Alabama, according to Yahoo! News.

The forest was buried under ocean sediments and protected in an oxygen free environment for over 50,000 years.

The Bald Cypress forest was likely unearthed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, according to Ben Raines, the executive director of the nonprofit Weeks Bay Foundation, which researches estuaries, and one of the divers to explore the underwater forest.

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The forest has trees that are so well preserved that when they are cut, they still smell like fresh Cypress sap, Raines said.

The stumps of these trees span an area that is at least .5 square miles, located several miles from the coast of Mobile, Alabama, and sitting approximately 60 feet below the surface of the water.

A dive shop owner told Raines that a local fisherman had found a site full of fish and wildlife and thought that something big was located underneath the water. The diver went down to explore the area and found the forest of trees, and then told Raines about his discovery, though he refused to disclose the location of the site because divers so frequently take artifacts from shipwrecks that he was concerned the site would be destroyed.

The diver revealed the site to Raines in 2012. Raines then went to the site himself, finding a primeval Cypress swamp containing what had turned into an artificial reef with fish, crustaceans, sea anemones and other underwater life that burrows between the roots of dislodged tree stumps.

"Swimming around amidst these stumps and logs, you just feel like you're in this fairy world," Raines told LiveScience.

 

A sonar map of the underwater forest.
A sonar map of the underwater forest.

 

Raines then spoke to Grant Harley, a dendochronologist, to determine the age of the forest. Harley and Kristine DeLong, a geographer, created a sonar map and analyzed two samples Raines had taken of the trees. Using carbon isotopes, they determined the trees were approximately 2,500 years old.

This may provide information about the climate in the area of the Gulf of Mexico at that time, which is a period known as the Wisconsin Glacial period, when sea levels were much lower than today.

"These stumps are so big, they're upwards of two meters in diameter - the size of trucks," Harley told OurAmazingPlanet. "They probably contain thousands of growth rings."

The team has applied for grants to explore the site more thoroughly, though Harley estimates they only have about two years to do so.

"The longer this wood sits on the bottom of the ocean, the more marine organisms burrow into the wood, which can create hurdles when we are trying to get radiocarbon dates," Harley said. "It can really make the sample undateable, unusable."

This discovery follows the disturbing announcement that forests growing in swastika formation have been found in Germany.

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