Dive Into a 60,000-Year-Old Forest In the Gulf of Mexico With a New Documentary

Screenshot, The Underwater Forest
Screenshot, The Underwater Forest

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.

[h/t al.com]

Delight the Kids In Your Life by Calling Santa on Your Smart Home Device

iStock.com/adamkaz
iStock.com/adamkaz

If you’ve got a smart home device, Santa may be coming early this year. You and the true believers in your life can ring up St. Nick with both Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa devices. Here’s how.

If you live in a Google-equipped house, you can say “Hey Google, call Santa.” As Lifehacker reports, you’ll hear a dial tone, then the voice of an elf will come on, promising to transfer you to the big man himself. Santa will then tell you that he needs help with his holiday musical, asking you various questions about potential music choices. After you answer all the questions, he’ll incorporate your answers into a holiday song. (It also works with the Google Assistant on your phone, where you’ll get some graphics to go along with the experience.)

Alexa can help you and your favorite youngsters connect to Santa, too. You’ll need to enable Amazon’s kid-friendly FreeTime, according to Digital Trends, after which you can just say “Alexa, call Santa.” An elf or some other holiday helper will answer, then Alexa will ask for Santa. A pre-recorded exchange between the virtual assistant and Santa will ensue, because naturally, Santa’s too busy in mid-December to take all his calls.

If Christmas music is your jam, you can enable Alexa’s iHeartRadio skill and ask Alexa to “talk to Santa Claus,” who will then ask you a series of questions before coming up with a personalized holiday playlist for you.

As Christmas gets closer, you can track the whereabouts of your presents with either Google Home or Alexa. For Google Home, you just need to ask, “Hey Google, where’s Santa?” to get Santa Tracker updates. For Alexa, enable the NORAD Tracks Santa skill and say, “Alexa, ask NORAD Tracks Santa, where’s Santa?” to get an update from the North American Aerospace Defense Command on St. Nick’s location.

Forget Therapy Puppies—Michigan State Students Brush Cows to De-Stress for Finals

iStock.com/123ducu
iStock.com/123ducu

As more universities are coming to understand just how stressful the rigors of modern academics can be, many institutions have begun bringing dogs onto campus to soothe anxious students during finals week. At Michigan State University, students have a more unique option to help them de-stress: cow time.

According to Click on Detroit, the recent "Finals Stress mooove on out!" event gave students the chance to brush cows at Michigan State's Dairy Cattle Teaching and Research Center just south of the school's main campus. For $10, participants spent 30 minutes brushing one of the school's 200 dairy cows, an activity designed to relax both the human and the cow.

Not all students come to college with a working knowledge of large-ruminant etiquette, so MSU farm manager Andrea Meade was on hand to show students what to do, prevent them from accidentally spooking the animals, and answer questions about milking and dairy practices.

Studies have shown that petting dogs can help lower your blood pressure, but dogs aren't the only animals that provide people with a psychological boost. A number of animals have been found to help relax humans (though the effect tends to be greater when it's a familiar animal rather than one the person just met), including cows. One 2011 study in Norway found that after working on a dairy farm for 12 weeks, psychiatric patients showed lower levels of anxiety and depression.

And the cows need to be brushed whether there are students there or not, so the event presented a mutually beneficial situation. Many dairies employ automated brush systems to keep cows clean and stimulate blood flow, keeping them happier and healthier in the process.

You don't need to be a student to enjoy the calming effects of cattle, though. Upstate New York's Mountain Horse Farm's hour-long "cow cuddling" sessions let you pet, brush, and play with new bovine friends for $75.

[h/t Click on Detroit]

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