German Chancellor Angela Merkel was in Halifax Thursday for the signing of a memorandum of understanding on scientific research between Dalhousie University and the Helmholz Association of German Research Centre.

She spent an hour talking with scientists studying everything from melting arctic ice, weather patterns and changes in plankton populations.

The signing ceremony was attended by dozens of marine scientists, graduate students as well as Premier Darrell Dexter and Science and Technology Minister Gary Goodyear.   

Dalhousie marine biologist Dr. Boris Worm outlined the importance of ocean studies.  

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The chancellor stopped to admire the world-class Aquatron marine laboratory, currently occupied by sea turtles. (CBC)

"As we study the oceans and learn more about them we discover they are changing quite rapidly. That change happens at all levels — so, it starts with ocean physics and chemistry, and goes on to plants and animals, and then finally to ocean uses by humans," said Worm.  

The chancellor has a physics degree and has published scientific papers on sustainability.    

In remarks before signing the agreement, Merkel steered clear of mentioning Canadian environmental policy but did note what she called, "the passion" of ocean scientists at Dal.  

During the meeting, Dalhousie University President Tom Traves said issues such as climate change won't be resolved without more international co-operation among scientists.

"If we are to understand how the ocean responds to both natural and human influences and to make our relationship with the ocean safer and more sustainable it is crucial to connect with excellent international partners. I can think of no better partner than our friends and colleagues in Germany," said Traves.

Her east coast visit followed a whirlwind visit with Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa.

Dexter said the agreement will allow scientists from here to work in Germany and German researchers to work here.

"We have more than 400 PhDs in Nova Scotia in marine-related fields. This is an extraordinary resource and we think that we can build a synergy around that, that will be good for the academic sector but also will be really good for the business sector," Dexter said.  

"What we want to see, of course, is commercializing this academic research and moving it kind of out of the lab and into the business world."

Officials have been trying to arrange bilateral talks between Merkel and Harper for months after failing to co-ordinate their schedules around successive G8 or NATO summits. The two leaders held a private dinner and discussion Wednesday evening.

Merkel arrived at Dalhousie University at 5 p.m to sign the research agreement and left Halifax Stanfield International a few hours later.