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Ancient Cypress Forests Found Under the Sea, Puzzles Scientists

  • Uncategorized
  • Aug 11, 2021

When woolly mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, and giant sloths roamed the North America during the last ice age about 18,000 to 80,000 years ago, the Gulf Coast climate was only slightly colder, more similar to the northern regions such as the existent climates of Missouri and North Carolina. As sea levels dropped and more land exposed on the continental shelf, bald cypress trees established themselves in swamps in what is now the northern Gulf of Mexico. And then an event occurred that suddenly killed and buried all the barren cypress forests along the Gulf Coast. These buried trees have been preserved by the sediments for thousands of years. About 18,000 years ago the sea level started to rose.

When the sea water started migrating inland, the buried trees remained preserved in their former swamp sediments. It was only in 2004, when hurricane Ivan exposed the buried ancient cypress forest when it cut across its path in that region. “It smells like freshly cut cypresses, ”said marine geologist and paleoclimatologist Kristine DeLong about the ancient fallen trees that she exhumed in 60 feet of water about 8 miles offshore. The fragrance is known to DeLong as her grandfather used to log cypress trees in Florida. Cypress trees were highly prized in 19th century because they don't decompose easily and are resistant to water rot and insects. Today it can no longer be cut down as it is under protection on public land. “We were surprised to find this cypress wood intact as the wood normally decomposes in the ocean from shipworms and bacteria," she said. In 2013, DeLong and his SCUBA- Research team at the site found 23 specimens of cypress trees and studied the wood in their laboratory at LSU, where she is an associate professor at LSU's Department of Geography and Anthropology, and at the University of Idaho. They tried to radiocarbon date the wood samples but it was not possible as they found them to be too old for that technique. So they used other methods and found out that the forest was from the early part of the last Ice Age and was between 42,000 and 74,000 years old.