Imagine taking a dive in the Gulf of Mexico, over a spot that is thick with fish, and as you approach the bottom you see something that is decidedly not of the ocean -- a forest of Cypress trees.
Live Science reports:
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 (1.3 square kilometers), several miles from the coast of Mobile, Ala., and sit about 60 feet (18 meters) below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.
The forest became a sort of artificial reef, providing a structure for anemones and fish to call home. A dive shop owner originally found the spot and swore Raines to secrecy about it -- but apparently the cat is out of the bag. Raines turned to scientists Grant Harley, a dendrochronologist, and Kristine DeLong, a geographer, who have helped uncover some of the forest's secrets, including its age of about 52,000 years. The scientists also want to use the forest to learn more about the climate of the time. By exploring the trees' growth rings -- and these trees could have been hundreds of years, perhaps even a thousand years old, before being taken over by the ocean -- the scientists can uncover more about the climate history of the gulf.