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Underwater forest: Ancient cypress forest buried off Alabama's coast

Divers discovered an underwater forest in the Gulf of Mexico. Some of the trees in the underwater cypress forest were thousands of years old before they were buried underwater.

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Harley was intrigued, and together with geographer Kristine DeLong of Louisiana State University, set out to discover the site's secrets.

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The research team created a sonar map of the area and analyzed two samples Raines took from trees. DeLong is planning her own dive at the site later this year. Because of the forest depth, scuba divers can only stay below for about 40 minutes before coming up.

Carbon isotopes (atoms of the same element that have different molecular weights) revealed that the trees were about 52,000 years old.

The trees' growth rings could reveal secrets about the climate of the Gulf of Mexico thousands of years ago, during a period known as the Wisconsin Glacial period, when sea levels were much lower than they are today.

In addition, because Bald Cypress trees can live a thousand years, and there are so many of them, the trees could contain thousands of years of climate history for the region, Harley said.

"These stumps are so big, they're upwards of two meters in diameter — the size of trucks," Harley told OurAmazingPlanet. "They probably contain thousands of growth rings."

The team, which has not yet published their results in a peer-reviewed journal, is currently applying for grants to explore the site more thoroughly.

Harley estimates they have just two years.

"The longer this wood sits on the bottom of the ocean, the more marine organisms burrow into the wood, which can create hurdles when we are trying to get radiocarbon dates," Harley said. "It can really make the sample undatable, unusable."

Follow Tia Ghose on Twitter and Google+. Follow OurAmazingPlanet @OAPlanetFacebook and Google+. Original article at LiveScience's OurAmazingPlanet.

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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