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Late Pleistocene baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) forest deposit on the continental shelf of the northern Gulf of Mexico

May 3, 2021

Approximately 13 km south of Gulf Shores, Alabama (United States), divers found in situ baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) stumps 18 m below the ocean surface. These trees could have only lived when sea level fell during the Pleistocene subaerially exposing the tectonically stable continental shelf. Here we investigate the geophysical properties along with microfossil and stratigraphical analyses of sediment cores to understand the factors that lead to this wood’s preservation. The stumps are exposed in an elongated depression (~100 m long, ~1 m deep) nested in a trough of the northwest–southeast trending Holocene sand ridges and troughs with 2–5 m vertical relief and ~0.5 km wavelength. Radiocarbon ages of the wood were infinite thus optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating was used to constrain the site’s age. Below the Holocene sands (~0.1–4 m thick), separated by a regional erosional unconformity, are Late Pleistocene mud-peat (72±8 ka OSL), mud-sand (63±5, 73±6 ka OSL), and palaeosol (56±5 ka OSL) facies that grade laterally from west to east, respectively. Foraminiferal analysis reveals the location of the terrestrial-marine transitional layer above the Pleistocene facies in an interbedded sand and mud facies (3940±30 (1σ) 14C a BP), which is part of a lower shoreface or marine-dominated estuarine environment. The occurrence of palaeosol and swamp facies of broadly similar ages and elevation suggests the glacial landscape possessed topographic relief that allowed wood, mud and peats to be preserved for ~50 ka of subaerial exposure before transitioning to the modern marine environment. We hypothesize that rapid sea-level rise occurring ~60 or ~40 ka ago provided opportunities for local flood-plain aggradation to bury the swamp thus preserving the stumps and that other sites may exist in the northern Gulf of Mexico shelf.

Publication Year 2021
Title Late Pleistocene baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) forest deposit on the continental shelf of the northern Gulf of Mexico
DOI 10.1111/bor.12524
Authors Kristine L. DeLong, Suyapa Gonzalez, Jeffrey B. Obelcz, Jonathan T. Truong, Samuel J. Bentley, Kehui Xu, Carl A. Reese, Grant L. Harley, Alicia Caporaso, Zhixiong Shen, Beth Middleton
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Boreas
Index ID 70222952
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wetland and Aquatic Research Center