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Mangrove trees live along tropical coastlines, where their exposed, gnarled roots grow down into salty water and the sediment below.

So when scientists learned of mangroves growing more than 100 miles inland on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, they were astonished.

“Having mangroves living in fresh water very far from the ocean, it’s almost impossible,” says Octavio Aburto of Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Aburto was part of a team that traveled deep into tropical forest to see these mangroves for themselves.

“It was really amazing to see a mangrove, red mangroves, living beside a waterfall,” he says.

Using genetic and geological data, the researchers found that the mangrove forest dates back more than 100,000 years to a period when warming temperatures caused glaciers to melt and seas to rise 20 to 30 feet.

During that time, ocean shoreline replaced inland forest, allowing mangroves to grow.

So studying the forest can help scientists learn more about the possible consequences of global warming. And it provides a warning about how dramatically sea-level rise can alter landscapes.

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media