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Several miles off the coast of Mobile, Alabama, a stunning forest is slowly being destroyed. Buried fifty thousand odd years ago and magically preserved in an oxygen free environment, the Bald Cypress forest was unearthed by the strong winds and aggressive waves of Hurricane Katrina, and amidst the natural chaos of wood-burrowing marine animals, it has maybe two or three years left to be photographed, appreciated and perhaps most importantly, studied.
After being alerted to its presence by a local diver, Weeks Bay Foundation director Ben Raines enlisted the help of scientists to map the region using sonar. By their calculations, the forest is about .5 square miles and lies roughly sixty feet below the surface. The region seems to be the remains of an old swamp with a river and its clearly defined banks even featuring in the natural underwater architecture. According to Live Science, the stumps of the trees are the size of pickup truck hoods, and they may well offer valuable information into what the Gulf of Mexico’s climate was like approximately 52,000 years ago, which is how old carbon dating has estimated the trees to be.
Once upon a time, the land on Earth was largely unchartered. Maps were an inexact science at best, and the wins and losses of armies were at least somewhat dependent on whether they could get to individual places fast enough. Now, the majority of continents have been well explored and we can track the movements of a single individual, let alone an entire army. In many ways, however, below the surface is still a great mystery, which is why random shots of fish can inspire such wonder or repulsion. We could legitimately learn some fascinating and history-altering details from these trees off the coast of Alabama because they’re among the most well-preserved anyone has ever seen. In fact, cutting into one reportedly releases the smell of sap.
From scientists who study growth rings to scientists who study swamp climates, experts are lining up to potentially work in this habitat over the next few years. In the meantime, grants are currently being sought and money is being raised. For everyone’s sake, I hope those issues can be dealt with sooner rather than later in order to maximize the time spent in careful study.
We’ll keep you updated. Until then, if you’re ever swimming in a natural body of water and spot what looks like a large, well-preserved forest, alert a scientist in your community as quickly as possible.