Travelers to Alabama’s Gulf Coast have a new attraction to explore off shore. That is, if they can get anyone to spill the beans. Alabama’s best kept secret is a primeval cypress forest that has been found just 10 miles south of Mobile, 60 feet below the surface of the water in the Gulf of Mexico.
A fisherman having incredible luck at the site just after Hurricane Katrina first became curious about the underwater habitat. He teamed up with a local diver who then discovered the underwater forest acting as an artificial reef for fish and other marine wildlife. It is widely speculated that the forest lay preserved underneath a blanket of sand for thousands of years until it was uncovered by deep wave action during the storm.
Carbon dating has revealed that the cypress trees existed about 52,000 years ago. Experts believe that the tree rings could contain thousands of years of climate history for the Gulf Coast region. In addition to dating samples of the trees, researchers have created a sonar map that revealed the primeval forest is 1.3 kilometers (about 321 acres) in size. Scientists are in the process of applying for grants to explore the site further and plan to publish their findings in peer-reviewed journals.
Mimi Fearn, head of the Earth Sciences Department at the University of South Alabama said, “It shows the Mobile River extending much farther out, much like what we have in the delta today, just much farther offshore. Imagine that delta being there offshore if you dropped sea level down. Same vegetation we have in the Delta today. We’re not talking so old that trees would have changed. It would look much like it looks today, a big swamp.”
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