PENSACOLA BEACH — The sugar-sand beach here appeared cleaner Thursday, after workers picked up tar balls overnight with shovels and nets. By noon they had collected 44,955 pounds of tar balls and oil material, according to the Escambia County Emergency Operations Center.
But a University of South Florida geologist made a grim discovery Thursday morning, 24 hours after the worst oil onslaught in Florida so far.
Ping Wang, 43, who has studied beaches for 20 years, dug a narrow trench perpendicular to the shoreline, about a foot deep and 5 feet long. A dark, contiguous vein of oil ran horizontally along the walls of the trench, about 6 inches beneath the surface of the sand.
The sheet of oil which was deposited on the beach at high tide Wednesday and stretched some 8 miles was covered by as much as a foot of sand at high tide Thursday, Wang explained.
"Beaches change very often," he said. Depending on tides and wave action, they constantly lose or accumulate sand.
While picking up tar balls and oil patties from the surface is helpful, Wang's discovery suggests that type of cleaning will be inadequate.