2009-07-18 / Top News

Divers Discover 'Drowned Forest' That Will Aid in Mackinac Island Research

By Karen Gould

U.S. Navy Sea Cadet divers Petty Officer Emily Hadash (left) and Lead Petty Officer Jonathan Allen measure one of 19 tree stumps found in about 22 feet of water in the Thunder Bay area near Alpena Wednesday, July 8. Research there will aid in this summer's exploration of the ancient waterfall and cave discovered near Mackinac Island in 2007 and 2008, respectively. (Photograph courtesy of Luke Clyburn) U.S. Navy Sea Cadet divers Petty Officer Emily Hadash (left) and Lead Petty Officer Jonathan Allen measure one of 19 tree stumps found in about 22 feet of water in the Thunder Bay area near Alpena Wednesday, July 8. Research there will aid in this summer's exploration of the ancient waterfall and cave discovered near Mackinac Island in 2007 and 2008, respectively. (Photograph courtesy of Luke Clyburn) Divers have discovered an ancient forest on the Lake Huron floor in Thunder Bay and are in the process of securing permits to take a sample from one of the moss-covered tree stumps there. Dating the forest, say the researchers working with the Noble Odyssey Foundation (NOF), will aid in research work taking place to the north of the site, off Mackinac Island at a submerged waterfall they discovered in 2007 and a nearby cave discovered by the same group last summer.

Researchers are looking for evidence of early human habitation in the area.

"When we receive our permits to take samples from these tree stumps, we will be able to put a date on when the ancient shore was above the water level," Captain Luke Clyburn told the Mackinac Island Town Crier Tuesday, July 14. "This will also tell us when the Mackinac underwater cave could have been used for shelter."

At left: Still evident under the moss is the shape of this tree stump from the drowned forest. The stump has been named The Monarch by Lieutenant Kathy Trax of the Noble Odyssey Foundation, which discovered the underwater forest in Northern Lake Huron last week. The group is waiting for permits to take a sample from the stump for testing and research. (Photograph courtesy of Lt. Trax) At left: Still evident under the moss is the shape of this tree stump from the drowned forest. The stump has been named The Monarch by Lieutenant Kathy Trax of the Noble Odyssey Foundation, which discovered the underwater forest in Northern Lake Huron last week. The group is waiting for permits to take a sample from the stump for testing and research. (Photograph courtesy of Lt. Trax) Working from the research vessel Pride of Michigan, now docked in St. Ignace, divers found the drowned forest in about 22 feet of water in the Thunder Bay area near Alpena Wednesday, July 8.

Considered a "major discovery," said Captain Clyburn, foundation president, "it will provide absolute dating information about the water levels of the distant past, and information about the environment during the time that the trees were living."

The Pride of Michigan also serves as training vessel for the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, which is sponsored by the Navy League and the U.S. Navy. The stump site was first recognized by two Great Lakes Division divers, Petty Officer Richard Cover and Petty Officer Marek Pilarski, who were diving along the Pride of Michigan's anchor chain to check that it was holding.

"We have educated our cadets and staff about all our research projects and are very proud of the fact that these two recognized what they were looking at on the lake bottom," said Lieutenant Kathy Trax of NOA.

The drowned forest was discovered when divers from the ship were participating in a nearby archaeological study. The dive team now has established a baseline record of forest remains. A preliminary survey revealed 19 rooted tree stumps. The area was filmed and photographed, and documentation will continue on the site throughout the summer of 2009.

In 2007, using sounding equipment, an ancient submerged waterfall formation was discovered near Mackinac Island. The waterfall was a part of an 80-mile-long ancient river that once flowed through the Straits area and was known as the Mackinac Channel.

Last summer, divers discovered a nearby cave.

The ship's crew is expected to return to the vessel docked at the St. Ignace City Marina Friday, July 17, to work on the ancient river project, which includes the waterfall and cave. A full crew will be on board the 80-foot training and research ship beginning Friday, July 31, through Friday, August 7, when they will begin another search of the ancient river bed.

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