Scuba divers recently uncovered an incredible ancient Cypress forest buried deep in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Spanning an area of 0.5 square miles, the underwater landscape has been protected by layers of sediment until the surges of Hurricane Katrina likely uncovered the trees in 2005. Experts believe that the preserved, 52,000 year-old forest will remain intact for just another few years, before wood-burrowing marine animals destroy it.

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The story of the discovery goes back to one year after Hurricane Katrina, when a local fisherman found a site rich with fish and marine wildlife near the coast of Alabama. Suspecting that there might be something hidden below, the fisherman confided in a dive shop owner who decided to check the site out for himself. What he discovered was an extraordinary underwater forest, a finding whose location he refused to disclose for years, said Ben Raines, one of the divers of the Weeks Bay Foundation.

The diver shared the story with Raines in 2012 and swore him to secrecy. Raines discovered that the forest had become an artificial reef, teeming with fish, crustaceans, anemones and different marine wildlife, with layers of sediment protecting it in an oxygen-free environment. Raines put together a team of scientists and created a sonar map of the area. Two samples taken from the trees were analyzed. The results revealed that the forest was 52,000 years old, which meant that it could help scientists learn more about climate of the Wisconsin Glacial period, a period when sea levels were much lower than today.

One of the researchers, Kristina DeLong of Louisiana State University, plans to dive at the site this year and explore it further. The team is currently applying for research grants, after which they will publish their findings in a peer-reviewed journal. According to Grant Harley, a dendrochronologist (someone who analyses patterns of tree rings) at the University of Southern Mississippi, this will be possible for only two more years, due to the wood-burrowing effect of marine organisms.

Via Discovery News and Live Science

Lead Image by Grant Harley and Kristine DeLong