From benthic biology to blizzard: an update from our Investigator Networking Fund

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When University of Calgary researcher Margaret Cramm headed to St. John’s to collaborate with Fisheries and Oceans Canada research scientist Dr. Bárbara de Moura Neves, getting snowed in wasn’t a part of her plan.

The two were teaming up as part of MEOPAR’s Investigator Networking Fund, bringing U Calgary’s Geomicrobiology Group and de Moura Neves together to expand on a 2018 microbial study near a methane seep in Scott Inlet, Baffin Bay. Using ROV footage collected from the CCGS Amundsen—which Cramm and de Moura Neves were aboard together— they planned to perform a benthic megafauna diversity assessment over a number of days in January that would wind up being historic ones.

“I study environmental microbiology and geochemistry and Bárbara studies benthic organisms. It’s kind of a perfect example of how collaboration is so important and how experiences as a scientist in the field meeting people, or meeting people wherever you meet them, can lead to the bettering of both our sciences,” says Cramm. “I really believe in interdisciplinary collaboration.”

Amundsen Science Data Collection. ROV imagery collected by the CCGS Amundsen in the Canadian Arctic. 2018. Baffin Bay. Dive 70. Accessed from amundsen.data@as.ulaval.ca, on August 15, 2018. ArcticNet-CSSF-DFO.

Two days into their networking activity, Mother Nature stepped in as the city began to prepare for a massive storm. With only two days left together and DFO’s Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre offices scheduled to be closed because of the impending blizzard, Cramm and de Moura Neves packed up computers and screens and prepared for a day of working from home.

“I didn’t really understand what a blizzard meant in Newfoundland,” says Cramm with a laugh. “I walked over to her house next morning from my Airbnb and I thought I was walking in the blizzard, but then it just got worse. We took a break in the afternoon and put on snowshoes—the trees were being pushed over by the wind—and even that wasn’t the blizzard.”

By evening they decided the two-foot drifts were big enough that Cramm should stay the night. The next morning, snow had nearly entirely filled the door frame. The record-breaking snowfall had left St. John’s facing a state of emergency, and Cramm and de Moura Neves hunkered down together throughout it.

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“We had planned the four working days to kind of get us started and I think what was really cool was, because of the extra time we didn’t have to work remotely to finish it. We were sitting there with lots of time and brainstorming different ways to be looking at this data. I think that the being there the extra week kind of rooted the collaboration,” says Cramm, adding that they did make time for some snowshoeing and baking, too.

 “Having that time dedicated to this project meant we could really sit down and plan and develop a story strategy on how we’d present. The product and vision were clearer. It’s almost like, the house we were building had more glue to hold it together.”