Ancient forest found preserved under Gulf of Mexico waters

July 9, 2013 at 6:10 PM   |   0 comments

MOBILE, Ala., July 9 (UPI) -- Scuba divers say they've discovered an ancient forest of Bald Cypress trees preserved underwater in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Alabama.

The forest, covered by ocean sediments and preserved in an oxygen-free environment for more than 50,000 years, was likely exposed by 2005's Hurricane Katrina, Ben Raines, one of the first divers to explore the forest, told LiveScience.com. The forest of well-preserved trees covers an area of a half square mile off the coast of Mobile, Ala., at a depth of about 60 feet.

The trees could contain thousands of years of climate history for the region in their growth rings and reveal secrets about the climate of the Gulf of Mexico thousands of years ago, during a period known as the Wisconsin Glacial period, when sea levels were much lower than they are today, Grant Harley at the University of Southern Mississippi said.

Bald Cypress trees can live 1,000 years, he said.

"These stumps are so big, they're upwards of two meters (6 feet) in diameter --- the size of trucks," Harley said. "They probably contain thousands of growth rings."

Now that it's been uncovered the forest will eventually be destroyed by wood-burrowing marine animals, making it impossible to perform radiocarbon dating, Harley said.

Since being uncovered the forest has attracted fish, crustaceans, sea anemones and other underwater life burrowing between the roots of dislodged stumps, researchers said.

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