The Gulf of Mexico contains an Ice-Age relic unlike anything else on Earth. Just 60 feet underwater off the coat of Gulf Shores, Alabama, a coastal forest from 60,000 years ago has been preserved right where it originally stood, still rooted in the same dirt. The unique ecosystem is the subject of a new documentary from This Is Alabama that will air on public television in July.
Some 60,000 years ago, sea levels were much lower than they are now—an estimated 400 feet lower—because much of the Earth's water was held up in glaciers. The forest was covered in sediment for thousands of years, but waves from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 began to sweep some of that sediment away, revealing a time capsule below.
"The forest appears to be a wholly unique relic of our planet’s past, the only known site where a coastal ice age forest this old has been preserved in place," according to This Is Alabama. The mud that covered the trees protected them from decomposition, sealing them away from the oxygen and water above. "[The forest] is considered a treasure trove of information, providing new insights into everything from climate in the region to annual rainfall, insect populations, and the types of plants that inhabited the Gulf Coast before humans arrived in the new world."
The new 27-minute film is the work of Ben Raines, an investigative reporter at al.com who first alerted scientists to the site after he found out about it from a dive shop owner in 2012. He has since participated in every scientific dive to research the area.
To learn more about the forest, watch the whole documentary on YouTube below.