A well-preserved, primeval underwater forest full of stumps from ancient Cypress trees has been discovered below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Alabama, scientists say.
Alabama's underwater Bald Cypress forest was likely freed of ocean sediment by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, reported website LiveScience.com.
Ben Raines, executive director of the Weeks Bay Foundation whose researchers examine estuaries, told the science website's Tia Ghose about the submerged woodland.
Cypress trees are part of an ancient family of trees which draw their start to the supercontinent Pangaea before the continental drift more than 200 million years ago, according to LiveScience.com. The underwater forest, located several miles off the Alabama coast, is covered with stumps from Cypress trees for a half-square mile and is 60 feet below the water's surface, Ghose reported.
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Raines told LiveScience.com that the forest was likely protected in an oxygen-free environment for more than 50,000 years before Katrina. He said the trees were so well-preserved that when they are cut, they still smell like fresh sap.
Hurricane Katrina was one of the strongest hurricanes ever to make land in the United States, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. It hit the upper Gulf Coast in August, 2005 and is better known for the damage it did on land in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, including the flooding of New Orleans, than what it uncovered along the ocean floor.
Raines said man and wood-burrowing sea animals currently pose the greatest threat to the underwater forest. Raines told LiveScience.com that an Alabama dive shop owner who first told him of the forest kept it a secret for years for fear of scuba divers would ruin the forest's pristine condition by rummaging through the area looking for artifacts from shipwrecks.
"Swimming around amidst these stumps and logs, you just feel like you're in this fairy world," Raines told LiveScience.com.
Grant Harley, a dendrochronologist at the University of Southern Mississippi, told LiveScience.com that scientists have two years tops to research the forest before wood-burrowing animals overtake it. He said the forest has already become an artificial coral reef.
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Harley, who studies tree rings, told LiveScience.com that the trees could contain thousands of years in earth's climate history.
"These stumps are so big, they're upwards of two meters in diameter — the size of trucks," Harley told LiveScience.com. "They probably contain thousands of growth rings."
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