Storm sweeps across gulf reveals 60,000-year-old forest hidden on seabed

Storm sweeps across gulf reveals 60,000-year-old forest hidden on seabed

After millennia of hiding on the seabed, the ancient forest has gradually emerged since Hurricane Ivan hit the gulf and wiped out the sediment.

According to new research published by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), nearly 60,000 years ago, a coniferous forest thrived on the riverbank near the Gulf of Mexico. When they die, they fall down and are buried under the sediment. Over time, rising sea levels have engulfed the rest of the forest.

A tree stump is still well preserved on the seabed. Photo: CNN

After millennia of hiding on the seabed, the ancient forest gradually emerged since 2004 after Hurricane Ivan hit the gulf and wiped out the sediment. However, it wasn’t until December 2019 that scientists from Northeastern University and Utah conducted an expedition (funded by NOAA) to collect wood specimens for the study.

Despite being buried for nearly 60,000 years, the stumps and trunks are still very well preserved. The sediment cover prevented oxygen from decomposing the wood. The samples brought back to the lab still retain their inner shells and colors.

Scientists are analyzing marine animals pulled up from underwater logs. Photo by Ocen Explorer

Francis Choi, a lab manager at Northeastern University’s Center for Marine Science, said more than 300 creatures have been found inside the trunk. In particular, the team specifically focused on wood chisels – mollusks that look like worms specializing in chiseling wood for food.

Wood-chiseled oysters inside ancient trunks have produced 100 strains of bacteria, according to NOAA, including many new strains, and 12 species are being sequenced dna to assess their potential in medicine. A previous study of bacteria on wood chisels has helped scientists develop drugs to treat parasitic infections.

In addition to the drug’s potential, experts will study new strains of bacteria to see if they can be applied in the production of paper, food, animal feed, chemicals or renewable fuels.

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