After keeping it a secret for several years, a dive shop owner shared his knowledge of a vast underwater forest off the coast of Alabama with Ben Raines, the executive director of Weeks Bay, an estuary research foundation. Raines investigated for himself and discovered bald cypress tree stumps spanning at least half a mile a mere 60 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Carbon dating done on samples indicates the trees are around 52,000 years old and are “so well-preserved that when they are cut, they still smell like fresh cypress sap.”
What’s the Big Idea?
The forest is in pristine condition because it had spent at least 50,000 years buried under sediment which Raines believes was displaced in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina. University of Southern Mississippi researcher Grant Harley says the trees could contain a wealth of climate history for the region, when sea levels were considerably lower than they are now. His team is currently seeking funding to help them explore the forest more thoroughly while they still have time: “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…It can really make [samples] undatable, unusable.”