Shade Metals

An Underwater Forest, Cypress Trees Buried off the Coast of Alabama

Sara & Cesar
image:    Rebecca Wynn

The bald cypress is a deciduous conifer- meaning it has cones like a pine tree and needle-like leaves, but the feathery leaves turn orange and shed before winter. Native to the southeastern United States, the trees are at home in water and swamps. Stubby growths that occur at the base of the tree, called it's knees, supplement oxygen to roots that are submerged in water and help anchor it in shifting mud and sand.


image:  Alabama Blog
image:  Alabama Blog
image:  zme science

Most of the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico is a sandy desert home to some jellyfish and starfish, but in recent years local fisherman started to notice increased activity about 10 miles off the coast of Alabama.

About 60 feet down into the Gulf of Mexico they found an ancient cypress forest that has been preserved for over 60,000 years. 

A thick carpet of sea anemones now call this forest home, along with spidery crabs, toadfish, red snapper, grouper and a host of other sea creatures taking refuge in its trunks. The knobby stumps of the bald cypress are clearly visible, and around them a thriving reef has been built up. 

Most theories point to Hurricane Ivan in 2004 for this discovery, as hurricanes are powerful enough to shift sand 100 feet below the surface of the ocean.  Before Ivan the forest was buried under the sea floor, cut off from oxygen, and therefore preserved.  So well-preserved in fact, that when the wood is brought to the surface and cut it still smells like cypress sap.


60,000 years ago the coastline of southern North America extended about 50 miles further south

60,000 years ago the coastline of southern North America extended about 50 miles further south

The discovery of these trees allows scientists a unique opportunity to study the climate from that time. With this ongoing investigation, they are putting together models of a forest that was less swampy and much colder. The exact location is kept secret for a reason, scientist want to preserve it for study, and conservationists and locals don't want it overrun with tourists. 


A short documentary by Ben Raines details the discovery and shows you footage of the site, check it out here.