ALABAMA - Scientists have discovered what they believe to be a 60,000-year-old underwater forest in the Gulf of Mexico.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the forest sat undisturbed for much of human history. NOAA researchers believe the forest of cypress trees began growing just as humans were first venturing out of Africa. As the trees fell with age, they were buried under sediment. A rising sea level then covered them up.
In 2004, NOAA believes Hurricane Ivan - and later Hurricane Katrina - swept up that sediment, uncovering the forest.
Since then, the site - which is located off Alabama's coast - has been visited by scientists and filmmakers. And last December, a NOAA-funded team of researchers from Northeastern University and the University of Utah decided to dive 60 feet down to bring back the cypress to study.
One of those researchers was Brian Helmuth, who described the scene to CNN.
Photo by Brian Helmuth/NOAA
“We dove around the edge of this ancient river bed. On our left were these remains of giant stumps and pristine wood coming out of the bank embankment,” Helmuth recalled. It still had bark on it. It still had all the coloration on the inside. It was just locked away for 60,000 years," Helmuth said.
"Even though the visibility wasn't great, you could pretty easily imagine it being the edge of a cypress forest and it was almost an eerie feeling of stepping back in time."
Helmuth said the wood was extremely well-preserved, as oxygen had been prevented from decomposing it.
Scientists discovered ancient organisms buried in the wood - some of which could lead to new medicines, NOAA believes.
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