Livestreamed expeditions help scientists explore underwater

Imagine being able to be the first to discover a shipwreck or a new species on the bottom of the sea. With the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's live streams of its underwater expeditions, everyday undersea explorers just might!

From command centers all over the country, the scientific community is working together -- leading a large underwater expedition -- and even giving the public a front row seat. With streams that show live images from a high definition camera on an undersea robot, discoveries are being made every day.

"We are able to accomplish so much more in terms of species identification and characterization of new deep-sea environments," Michael Studivan, a Ph.D. student at Florida Atlantic University, writes in a NOAA blog post. "After all, each group of scientists specializes in one field, yet in deep-sea exploration, there is a pairing of coral, invertebrate, and fish biology, geology and geochemistry."

Launched from the ship, "Okeanos Explorer" about 200 miles off the Texas Coast, the most recent expedition began April 10 and ended May 1. Discoveries ranged from natural wonders -- such as a Dumbo octopus, named after the Disney character because of its ear-like fins -- and historic treasures -- including a cluster of shipwrecks from the early 1800s.

Perhaps the most exciting discovery was made towards the end of the mission. Initially thought to be a shipwreck turned out to be an asphalt volcano, thought to be formed from tar blossoming out of the sea floor -- a geological surprise.

"Everybody's been surprised when we saw it. We expected it to be a shipwreck, and here we saw what looked like a beautiful flower on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico," Catherine Marzin, a NOAA ecologist, told CBS News reporter Craig Boswell.

After what NOAA says was a successful expedition, the "Okeanos Explorer" was in port in Tampa, Fla. from May 1 to May 7. The ship will depart Tampa on May 7 for a mapping expedition along the East Coast, arriving in Rhode Island on May 22.

New discoveries are always exciting for both scientists and virtual explorers everywhere, but also represents the vast complexity of undersea life.

"The ocean is critically important to understand and yet, it's 95 percent unexplored," Fred Gorell, NOAA's Public Affairs officer, told CBS News. "And so, we're out there exploring."

For any virtual explorers that missed out on this expedition, the next livestreamed mission will begin either in late August or early September. Check out NOAA's livestream site for more information.