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ABOARD THE NOAA PISCES (Reuters) - Scientists above a U.S. research ship have started an around-the-clock search for elusive signs of oil lurking beneath the Gulf of Mexico's surface in what they jokingly call "Operation Dipstick."

As debate rages among scientists over how much oil remains in the water after BP Plc's massive oil spill, their research vessel circles above the blown-out Macondo well, some 40 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River.

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