Connecting fieldwork and laboratory experiments to numerical modelling in a changing marine environment

Published: 31 August 2017

One of the attributes that makes MERP a unique research programme is that we have the explicit aim of combining data with large scale models. Many times this aim is embedded in the work plan of projects, however, communication between data-generating ecologists, our experimentalists and observational researchers, and numerical modellers is not a trivial task.

Recognising this challenge, a group of us from both communities wrote a manuscript in which we reflected on our experience of working together, with the aim of facilitating this type communication for others (Queirós et al 2015). We laid down what we perceived to be common problems encountered when the two communities meet and the rules of thumb we had jointly developed to break down those barriers in communication and advance model development.

On 18-19th August 2017, MERP's Dr Ana Queirós took these ideas that are at the heart of MERP to a discussion hosted in Bergen (Norway) as part of the FILAMO project. FILAMO is jointly led by the University of Bergen, University of Oslo and University of Cape Town, and has the primary aim of training the next generation of multidisciplinary marine scientists, to provide marine students and young scientists with meeting places and opportunities to integrate and communicate across field, laboratory and numerical modelling approaches. FILAMO combines research, training and higher education by funding student exchange, researcher mobility, and organizing summer schools and workshops across these methodological approaches.

Over two days 30 scientists from around the world, covering benthic to pelagic systems, whales to omics, and at various career stages, discussed communication difficulties between empiricists and modellers, strategies to overcomes them, which included the development of educational tools for the next generation. It was refreshing to see the commonalities across people working in such diverse fields of marine science. Most interestingly, it was a pleasure to highlight some of the positive examples emerging from MERP, including the development of bottom-up and top-down processes in models, from the water column to the seabed, jellyfish to seaweeds. 

Already, MERP is a success story of communication between empiricists and modellers. My personal view is that we have put our plan to action: in our open-mindedness in working with researchers from different disciplines; by involving both communities in the identification of our common research questions; in the writing of our research plan together; in making sure we have collected and gathered the correct types of data for our models; in our various engagement activities from the start and throughout the programme, and through our continued communication. These are not trivial tasks, and I have seen other projects with similar aims fail. I think MERP scientists can be proud of what we are achieving and that others will be interested in hearing what lessons we have learned through this process. Well done everyone.

Related Information:

Queirós, A. M., J. Bruggeman, N. Stephens, Y. Artioli, M. Butenschön, J. C. Blackford, S. Widdicombe, P. J. Somerfield and J. I. Allen (2015). "Placing biodiversity in ecosystem models without getting lost in translation." Journal of Sea Research 98: 83-90.

FILAMO project


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