knowledge mobilization

Knowledge Mobilizers: Weaving art, activism and science to brave the realities of a changing climate

May 19, 2022
Members of The Arctic Circle residency explore Smeerenburgbreen, Svalbard. Lynne Quarmby behind the camera. Photo Eric Esterle

Lynne Quarmby’s book Watermelon Snow: Science, Art, and a Lone Polar Bear is not a science text or a guide to address climate change. It is a personal story woven with art and science that is “contributing to the zeitgeist of climate change”. The book offers a glimpse into the values, discoveries and beauty of being a scientist and a climate activist. Quarmby, SFU professor in the department of molecular biology, worked on this book as a passion project because as she notes, “writing a book is very uncommon in my field.”

Watermelon Snow—not to be mistaken for (but could be enjoyed with?) the song “Watermelon Sugar”—is a climate communication piece written for readers with moderate climate views that need more information to make good choices or advocate for change. The book expresses the urgency of the climate crisis through a personal journey and exploration of the North.

The book takes its name from watermelon snow, a cold fresh water algae. As the algae accumulates in layers through compression (walking on it, melting), it turns the snow pink or red—like watermelon. This darkens the surface of the snow, and thus contributes to further glacial melt. “Watermelon snow is an excellent springboard for climate action discussions, as it is intrinsically interesting and aesthetically pleasing,” says Quarmby.

Quarmby did not just wake up one morning and start writing a popular science novel. Alongside her academic career, she has always worked on advocacy for the climate crisis. Over a decade ago, she started writing popular science essays and providing talks on climate change to community groups and grade school classrooms. In addition, Quarmby writes op-eds, blogs, and ran for office with the Green Party.

These days, when not on campus, you will find her at invited public talks, university lectures (to compliment the inclusion of her book in syllabi), community nature groups and book clubs (well, I plan to invite her to mine!), diverse conferences and on the radio. In addition, she is a contributing author to a Hollywood handbook on climate change, the “Good Energy Playbook” to help film writers and producers accurately represent climate issues in all their projects.

Why engage in all these knowledge mobilization activities? Quarmby states, “it’s our [researchers] responsibility as we are publicly funded, it feels good to do good and it’s fun!” She went on to say, “I’m privileged to be living a life with the freedom of living my values at work and at home. I encourage other academics to stretch to what inspires them.”

Are you a graduate student or early career researcher curious about how to live your values at work and at home? Sign up for the SFU Knowledge Mobilization Hub newsletter for events or get in touch with Lupin Battersby for a consultation.

Knowledge Mobilizers is a story series from the Knowledge Mobilization Hub that highlights knowledge mobilization (KM) projects around the university. At SFU, KM is about collaborating on, and exchanging, research discoveries to create a positive impact in our far-reaching communities.