Underwater Forest Discovered: Scientists Have Only Two Years To Study It

Scuba divers have found a 50,000 year-old Bald Cypress forest that was likely uncovered when Hurricane Katrina swept through the region back in 2005.
Scuba divers have found a 50,000 year-old Bald Cypress forest that was likely uncovered when Hurricane Katrina swept through the region back in 2005.

Underwater Forest Located Off the Alabama Coast

Gulf of Mexico – Bald Cypress trees are known for their ability to last for multiple millenniums and that lifespan allows for an in depth study of the climatology using their tree rings.

This fact is part of what makes the underwater forest located off the Alabama coast so important.

With the aid of sonar mapping technology, researchers have found a forest of Bald Cypress trees in part of the Gulf of Mexico believed to have thrived as many as 52,000 years ago during a time when sea levels were far below what they are now.

According to Ben Raines, one of the first divers to explore the underwater forest, the trees are so well-preserved that, when they are cut, they still smell like fresh Cypress sap.

Tia Ghose, who broke the story on LiveScience, recounts the discovery:

Raines was talking with a friend who owned a dive shop about a year after Hurricane Katrina. The dive shop owner confided that a local fisherman had found a site teeming with fish and wildlife and suspected that something big was hidden below. The diver went down to explore and found a forest of trees, then told Raines about his stunning find.

But because scuba divers often take artifacts from shipwrecks and other sites, the dive shop owner refused to disclose the location for many years, Raines said.

In 2012, the owner finally revealed the site’s location after swearing Raines to secrecy. Raines then did his own dive and discovered a primeval Cypress swamp in pristine condition. The forest had become an artificial reef, attracting fish, crustaceans, sea anemones and other underwater life burrowing between the roots of dislodged stumps.

Grant Harley, a dendrochronologist (someone who studies tree rings) at the University of Southern Mississippi was intrigued and set out to discover the site’s secrets.

“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.”

Yahoo News writes:

The Bald Cypress forest was buried under ocean sediments, protected in an oxygen-free environment for more than 50,000 years, but was likely uncovered by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, said Ben Raines, one of the first divers to explore the underwater forest and the executive director of the nonprofit Weeks Bay Foundation, which researches estuaries.
The forest contains trees so well-preserved that when they are cut, they still smell like fresh Cypress sap, Raines said.

The stumps of the Cypress trees span an area of at least 0.5 square miles (0.8 kilometers), several miles from the coast of Mobile, Ala., and sit about 60 feet (18 meters) below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.

That period of time is called the Wisconsin Glacial period. Scientists say that they have found tree stumps in the forest with diameters the width of a truck at two meters or ~6.5 feet. A tree stump that large will have thousands of tree rings and give valuable insights in into the climate.

Data is being collected about the forest. However, due to the depth of the forest, divers are only able to collect findings at intervals that last a little more than half an hour. The researchers are looking to obtain funding via grants and believe they are under the gun as they expect the forest to last only two more years claims Harley.

“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 undatable, unusable.”

A primeval underwater ocean has been unearthed just a few miles off the coast of Alabama. Here, a sonar …
A primeval underwater ocean has been unearthed just a few miles off the coast of Alabama. Here, a sonar …

ON The Web:

Underwater forest: Ancient cypress forest buried off Alabama’s coast
http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2013/0708/Underwater-forest-Ancient-cypress-forest-buried-off-Alabama-s-coast/(page)/2

Ancient Underwater Forest: 50,000 Year-Old Swamp Discovered By Scuba Divers Off Alabama’s Coast
http://io9.com/an-ancient-underwater-forest-has-been-discovered-in-the-717657757

Primeval Underwater Forest Discovered in Gulf of Mexico
http://ph.news.yahoo.com/primeval-underwater-forest-discovered-gulf-mexico-164826663.htmlPrimeval Underwater Forest Discovered in Gulf of Mexico

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