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Florida scientists working on spill say they're in the dark on how much oil is lurking beneath the surface

Reps. Kathy Castor and Cliff Stearns Wednesday convened a panel of Gulf Coast state university scientists to update congressional staffers on research efforts -- and push for more money.

"I think BP needs to step up,' Castor said as she introduced the panel of experts from Florida schools including Florida State and the University of South Florida.

The researchers, including USF's Robert Weisberg, said they're tracking surface oil from satellite images, but that it gets difficult to track once it's in the loop current -- which could bring it to Florida.

"I'm convinced there actually is oil right now, heading toward the Keys," he said. "How much, we can't tell but it's probably very little...We have very little observational information to say where it is. What I'd really like to see is more interaction between the academic community and the agencies...we need better ground truth information so we can provide forecasts of where things are going."

And he said the information on subsurface data is almost nil. "We have some (monitoring equipment) but it's really kind of paltry and funding clearly has been declining rather than increasing," he said, noting that he's only seen data from academic sources.

"Somebody needs to be making these observations," he said. "Everybody's working as hard as they can, so  maybe that's not a fair criticism, but I would like to think the EPA would be concerned about what is going on and would be ensuring that resources are being marshalled to determine where the stuff is....I'm in the dark, I don't know."

Weisberg blamed the problem on lack of spending. He noted that a presidential commission in 2006 recommended spending $750 million on ocean research and management. The current budget, he said, around $15 million.