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Aug 17, 2010 7:17 PM

Gulf surface looks cleaner, but woes lurk below

WASHINGTON (AP) Researchers are warning that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is a bigger mess than the government claims and that a lot of crude is lurking deep below the surface, some of it settling perhaps in a critical undersea canyon off the Florida Panhandle.

Scientists at the University of South Florida gathered the evidence of microscopic amounts of oil mixing into the soil of the canyon.

They also found poisoned plant plankton -- the vital base of the ocean food web -- which they blamed on a toxic brew of oil and dispersants.

Their work is preliminary, hasn't been reviewed by other scientists and requires more tests to confirm it is BP's oil they found.

It is based on a 10-day research cruise that ended late Monday night. Scientists who were not involved said they were uncomfortable drawing conclusions based on such a brief look.

But those early findings follow a report on Monday from Georgia researchers that said as much as 80 percent of the oil from the spill remains in the Gulf.

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