A species of sea slug, Chromodoris reticulata, found in the Pacific Ocean, is the only known animal that has a disposable penis. Japanese researchers have recently observed the creatures mating then detaching their penis. The sea slugs are then able to regrow a new fully functioning penis in 24 hours which they can then use to copulate again. The sea slugs sex life is already a complicated matter, as they are simultaneous hermaphrodite – this means they have both male and female sexual organs and can use them both at the same time. It is not uncommon for some species, particularly hermaphrodites to lose their penis at some point in their lifetime, but this is the first case of an animal being able to regrow one and reuse it.
OUSAS set their sights on the stars
Sunday 17th February saw the unveiling of the newly refurbished OUSAS (Oxford University Space and Astronomical Society) observatory by Professor Roger Davies. The observatory, which has been out of action for 15 years, is located behind St. Catherine’s College. A generous donation, made by Oxford Royale enabled the ambitious project to be undertaken. Sara Lukic, a student at St. Catz and John Ealand, a physical chemistry professor took the decision to restore the building as the felt it was time OUSAS has its own working observatory. This will be the only observatory in Oxford open to members of the public.
UK police get high-tech with paintballs
Forget truncheons, the latest weapon in a policeman’s arsenal is so high-tech it’s orange. The snappily named High Velocity DNA Tagging System does exactly what it says on the tin. The pistol fires paintball-like pellets containing a unique DNA code which penetrates clothing to leave an indelible mark on the skin. Visible under UV light, this trace mark can irrefutably place criminals at the scene of a crime days and weeks even after the event. Designed for use in riots, the more trigger-happy law enforcer will be pleased to know that the gun also comes in shotgun form capable of firing off 20 rounds at once.
PHOTO/pacificKlaus; foxtail_1; a5400410
Every January since 1978 thousands of technology enthusiasts have descended upon Las Vegas. Some say their motives are to gamble away their millions made from another bumper Christmas, with tablet and smartphone sales soaring even further than before in Q4 2012, but to most following consumer technology ‘January’ and ‘Las Vegas’ can be replaced with a simple, three letter acronym: C.E.S., the Consumer Electronics Show.
I have only ever visited one trade show, the slightly less well known Optrafair, where all of the British optical community gather to gawp at the latest innovations in … optics. Attending Optrafair with my parents (who are both optometrists) was hardly the most riveting experience of my two decades, but I came away with two very distinct memories which seem to serve as a very good generalisation for trade shows: salespeople are almost exclusively very attractive (and normally female) and every single product being shown is the best thing since soft contact lenses (or the industry equivalent to sliced bread).
I am reliably informed that CES is hyperbolic of even the traditional trade-show narrative … ‘booth babes’ (no longer just above average looking salespeople, but scantily clad models half trained to sell, half trained to shamelessly flirt) and product announcements which can only be described as the opposite of subtle are both found in abundance.
I am by no means the only one giving CES a bad rep. Many bloggers and journalists are claiming that they won’t make the annual pilgrimage to the city that never sleeps this time next year, even if it is an all expenses paid trip with hundreds of freebies and product demos (and models) which most would think would attract most geeks without quibble. Things must really be bad if people would rather be lounging at home suffering from post-Christmas lethargy than heading to the event of the year in their respective industry, in Las Vegas of all places.
Aside from all of the moaning and metajournalism, there were actually some fairly exciting product announcements at CES this year: Sony finally appears to be making a comeback in the mobile space after parting ways with Ericsson with the launch of their ‘waterproof superphone’ the Xperia Z, and Vizio announced a tablet which they claim is lighter, thinner and more powerful than Apple’s king of the tablets.
Both devices appear to be competitively specced when compared to the current crop of high-end devices, since both are running the latest iteration of Google’s Android operating system and feature excellent displays, processors and the like. Crucially both devices also appear to be competitively priced when compared to Apple’s latest offerings: Sony’s Xperia Z is estimated to come in at around £530 without a contract which is the same as Apple’s basic model of the iPhone 5, and although Vizio have not revealed pricing information they have said it will be in line with the latest iPad, which comes in at £399 for the base model.
I was quite excited about these announcements because I am currently shopping around for a tablet or laptop and potentially a new phone if I have any change. Most of this will be financed from my Christmas holiday work, but also my parents have agreed to top up my fund as a Christmas present should I convince them that I have found the best tablet to suit my needs.
On the surface these two devices appear to be perfect for me: I am heavily invested in Google services and so I won’t consider jumping ship to Apple or Microsoft unless they offered something really enticing. But I’m afraid to say that I’ll be passing on Vizio and Sony too. If you asked me this time last year when one should look to upgrade personal electronics, I would have said some time after CES so that you can jump on the latest and greatest. I’m not turning Sony and Vizio down because they’re failing to offer really, really good products, but rather because they’re really, really expensive. No, obviously not expensive when compared to Apple, but definitely, completely, blatantly overpriced when compared to the offerings of Google, and to some extent Amazon.
I’m sorry for doing this in such a roundabout way, but I wanted to give some context for why the business model that Google and Amazon are pursuing is so outlandish. Google’s latest ‘Nexus’ phone (Nexus is a line of devices curated by Google, the manufacturers have little to no say in how the final product comes out, they just make it to Google’s specifications) is called the Nexus 4, and it compared very favourably to the iPhone 5 in most departments. It is probably a less enticing phone than the waterproof Xperia Z, which comes with a better screen and camera, but whilst the Sony and Apple are asking for around £530 to lay your fingers on their handsets, Google are asking for just £280 (and there’s a lower end model with half the storage for £240, less than half the price of the others).
It’s a similar, if less dramatic story with tablets. Google’s Nexus 10 costs £80 less than the base ‘iPad with retina display’, and we assume the same will be true of Vizio’s tablet. Apple enthusiasts might argue that the iPad 2 or the iPad mini are more similarly priced, but Google’s smaller offering (the imaginatively named Nexus 7) starts at over a hundred pounds less than the brand new iPad mini.
Amazon is tipped to enter the mobile phone market with a device similar to Google’s Nexus 4, but Amazon was actually the first company to substantially undercut Apple in the tablet market with their Kindle Fire, which is priced similarly to the Nexus line. Nexuses and Amazon’s offerings appear to make Apple’s products – and especially new efforts by companies like Vizio, Samsung and Sony – look incredibly expensive. I am not looking to start an argument about whether these products are overpriced or not, I wholeheartedly believe that if you are invested in a brand and you enjoy using it then you’ll need a very good reason to win you over to a new ecosystem, but the price differences are undeniably substantial. What I want to comment on is how this behaviour seems great for consumers on the surface, but could actually be very damaging in the long term.
Once the Nexus 4 and Nexus 10 eventually come back in stock (they have been sold out since virtually their first day of release), I am 99% sure I will go ahead and buy them. I’ll even have some change leftover for an external monitor and a Bluetooth keyboard so that I can write essays on my Nexus 10. However, when I pitched this master plan to my parents they could not understand how Google’s offerings are so much less expensive than the other options on offer. They insisted there must be a catch. I showed them that the build quality, software and performance were reported to be in the same league as the much more expensive alternatives. Eventually they were won over and assumed Google must have some voodoo powers which enabled them to create more affordable products.
Despite winning my parents over, a seed of doubt had been planted in my mind. How on earth can Google, and Amazon, afford to charge such a little amount for devices which would appear to cost much more if they simply had a different name badge on them? Google have been quite shady about the whole thing, but with a little digging it became apparent that Amazon have been pursuing this tactic for quite some time in the plain light of day.
Amazon’s tablet range is intended to deliver devices that make enjoying Amazon’s many services seamless and fool proof. Most people know about Amazon’s Kindle store for buying ebooks. It turns out that Kindle books are incredibly easy to download and consume for all Kindle Fire owners. Amazon also offer easy access to MP3s, digital videos, cloud storage (like Dropbox) and apps via the Kindle Fire, as well as a superior product browsing experience for Amazon’s main storefront physical which so many people rely on for a vast array of products. Amazon’s strategy for the Kindle Fire is plain: recuperate reasonable costs from selling the device, but use the device to facilitate dependence on Amazon’s ecosystem, and Amazon’s ecosystem alone. If you use the Kindle Fire as intended, you basically only use Amazon’s services for most of your digital life, all of which it profits from.
This strategy isn’t new or unheard of. The normal just-plain-old-reading Kindles are sold at or close to cost, with the hope that you’ll buy enough books from the Kindle store to make it worth Amazon’s while, and they’ve been around since 2007. Sony appear to be the victims of this aggressive pricing strategy because their Xperia Z is so dramatically undercut by the Nexus 4, but Sony behaved in exactly the same way with their Playstation line of games consoles, often profiting off the game sales rather than the console itself.
The strategies can easily be observed outside of the world of technology too. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was sold at a loss by all major retailers. Supermarkets lead the charge, but WH Smith and Waterstones were forced to follow by charging less than cost in the hope that avid readers might also snap up some other books whilst they were in store.
This is clearly the sort of strategy that Amazon are pursuing, but by no means limiting their services to books. A lot more is at stake than just peripheral book sales in the all inclusive world of digital services.
Google have been a little shady about the whole thing. Google’s Android software is given away for free to manufacturers to do with as they please. Manufacturers generally choose to keep Google’s search, Gmail and application store in order to deliver the best experience, whilst profiting from the sale of the physical devices themselves. In this model, Google makes money from the app store and people’s reliance on other Google services which just happen to come with the handsets. Google then released the Nexus line of devices, which it claimed were to show manufacturers how Google envisioned Android to look on a phone. Google made it very clear that the aim was not to make lots of extra money or to compete with its hardware partners, but rather to set standards and spark new ideas. But in light of Google’s most recent releases I honestly can’t believe this is Google’s strategy any more. Releasing devices so competitively priced cannot be seen as working well with anyone other than the few manufacturers who are actually making the new Nexus lines. Everyone else is left in the dust whilst Google charges what they want knowing that as long as that person buys a few apps, books, MP3s, movies or magazines from Google’s ‘Play’ store they will have made enough money to justify the whole thing.
I’d love to conclude this article by righteously declaring that Google and Amazon are awful, uncompetitive companies who are trying to stifle competition through loss leadership, and that I will therefore abstain from buying any new devices until their pricing strategies change, but I can’t bring myself to say it. Perhaps I’m just trying to rationalise my selfishness by saying that at least Google are trying to stay open by allowing competitors present services on their app store, and that Amazon are such underdogs in the market right now that their pricing strategy might give them the leg up they need to actually challenge Apple.
A small part of me really is very worried that such aggressive pricing will eventually lead to smaller fish (like Vizio and Sony) being pushed out of the market, which could eventually stifle the innovation that choice brings to the table, but I’m afraid to say my bank balance is much smaller, and my thirst for the latest technology is much greater, than that part of me will be for the foreseeable future.
In the past genetic engineering has arguably just been a cut and paste job, take a gene or two from one organism put it into another and observe. Whilst this technology has served us incredibly well, producing everything from insulin to glowing mice (not to mention a little controversy), we are on the precipice of change. Increasing DNA sequencing and artificial DNA synthesis efficiencies are giving way to an emerging interdisciplinary field, with a radically new perspective – Synthetic Biology.
Whilst difficult to neatly define, Synthetic Biology broadly encompasses much more ambitious genetic manipulations of life than attempted in the past. It does this using approaches which involve the application of engineering and computing principles to cellular function. The former refers to the standardisation of biological parts, so called BioBricks. These are publicly available DNA sequences coding for predetermined, supposedly compatible, functional cellular components (e.g. a specific enzyme). The growing pool of BioBricks represents a repository of interchangeable functional modules. These can then be combined by the user to form new metabolic networks, of defined function, in their “chassis” of choice (usually E.coli). The potential applications of this form of Synthetic Biology are wide ranging, as best exemplified by the annual iGEM competitors. iGEM, the international genetically engineered machines competition, is an undergraduate Synthetic Biology competition (peculiarly Oxford doesn’t have a team) which has been running since 2004. One of iGEMs main aims is to promote advancements in Synthetic Biology by challenging teams to engineer organisms with novel functions, by creating new or using available BioBricks. Such endeavours have produced the aptly named E.chromi and BactoBlood, both derived from E.coli. The former is a biosensor derivative which changes to a variety of colours in response to local concentrations of a given inducer. The latter is a potential blood transfusion substitute, in which E.coli has been engineered to carry oxygen (i.e. produce haemoglobin) in the bloodstream whilst not inducing any complications (e.g. blood poisoning).
However, iGEM represents only the tip of the Synthetic Biology iceberg with more extreme genetic manipulations with even more ambitious applications in the pipeline. These are coming from Synthetic Biology’s visionaries such as Craig Venter and Harvard’s George Church. Among his many projects which include synthetic bacterial fuel production and increasing the efficiency of algae photosynthesis, Venter (an American biologist come entrepreneur) is working on synthetic genomics. This involves synthesis and introduction of artificially, computer designed, genomes into bacteria. Not only do these synthetic genomes represent the largest DNA molecules artificially produced to date, Venter is hoping to use them to create the first “synthetic” organism. To be aptly named Mycoplasma laboratorium, this organism is designed to be a genetically streamlined version of the bacterial parasite Mycoplasama with all non-essential genes removed. This minimal genome is then hoped to act as default genome upon which further engineering can occur. Even further in the future, Venter envisages the rise of the digital biological converter or “3D printers of life”. These are hypothesised desktop based genetic engineering devices which utilise life as a manufacturing station. The device would reliably engineer bacteria for the production of various chemical compounds, medicines and fuels. The applications of such technology could be used in the rapid distribution of vaccines in pandemics preventing large scale human suffering. The genomic engineering or “instructions” required to achieve this could be sent in electronic form and then genetically inserted into the bacteria using the converter and the subsequent vaccine extracted.
Whilst many of the applications of Synthetic Biology seem quite far-fetched today, it is easy to see that the advancement of this novel field has the potential to revolutionise many aspects of human civilization; especially in the healthcare and energy sectors. As with genetic engineering before it, the ethical implications of Synthetic Biology need careful consideration. One can only hope that this time round the ethics and the science develop together, rather than at different rates.
PHOTO/ Microbe World
Lunar living project underway
The prospect of living on the moon is fast approaching, plans are being developed for a inflatable four person dwelling on the south pole of the moon. This structure would be completed by a team of robots wielding 3D printers which would convert the mineral rich surface soils of the moon into a protective covering for the building. The architects Foster and partners who have been working on more terrestrial projects such as the Wembley Stadium and the World Trade Centre are very excited by such a ground breaking project and hope to get underway with the building in 2020 when the 3D printers are completed.
A quarter of a million Twitter users have had their accounts hacked and their passwords, usernames, emails and other data stolen. This wide-scale internet security breach is highly sophisticated and not thought to be the work of amateurs. Affected users have had their passwords invalidated and have been sent emails informing them. However, users are warned to be aware of spam emails ‘phishing’ for sensitive information, they should not click on links in emails asking them to change their password but should instead log in normally and follow the instructions on the Twitter site.
Publication bias in medicine costs lives
A petition has been set up by AllTrials in order to ensure all pharmaceutical trials are registered and all methods and results are fully reported. Thousands of clinical trials have not reported their results and some have not even been registered. This can go on to have serious repercussions including bad treatment decisions, missed opportunities for good medicine and potentially harmful trials being repeated. Ben Goldacre, author of Bad Science and Bad Pharma has said, ‘Positive findings are around twice as likely to be published as negative findings. This is a cancer at the core of evidence-based medicine’. The petition can be found at www.alltrials.net
PHOTO/penguinbush; photologue_np; Loz Flowers
Do you have rs4950?
If you ever think that someone seems born to be a leader then you might just be right. New research has uncovered a gene that genetically predisposes those who possess it to take charge in group situations. The study of 4,000 people, carried out by researchers at UCL, found the rs4950 DNA sequence prominent among individuals occupying supervisory roles in the workplace. The gene alone is not enough to create leaders, certain skills need to be learned in addition, but it may provide that extra edge to turn someone into a manager over others without it.
A digital take on mannequins
Fashion meets technology as a new craze hits clothing stores in Japan. Shops have introduced a special hanger system that displays pictures of a model wearing the item on the hanger. The hangers contain a simple on-off switch depending on whether the item is hanging or is picked up. Each hanger has a unique ID tied to a computer in store which triggers a photo or video of a model wearing the item on the hanger on a large LED screen. The move comes in a bid to re-attract shoppers to the high-street after a recent take-off in online shopping sales. It can also have applications for logging the popularity of an item and deducing effective locations in store.
Check your texts in the blink of an eye
Over the years, LCD (liquid crystal display) technologies have been used to make television displays bigger and bigger. Now, at the Centre for Microsystems Technology at Ghent University in Belgium, researchers are going to the other extreme by developing a contact lens shaped display that can modulate transmitted light using LCD technology. At the moment, image and colour changes in the display are only visible to bystanders so its uses are mainly cosmetic. However, research is currently underway to solve the problem of short-range focusing which, if successful, would mean the wearers themselves could see projected text and images. Developers hope to launch a commercial product within 5 years.
PHOTO/ironmanixs; notashamed; lindes
Trying to get a foot in the door of the music industry is a notoriously bad career move. It is a path that resigns the majority to a few years of overdrafts and unsympathetic landlords. The disillusioned will then finally accept the prescience of their parents’ post-college counsel and get a proper job. The stubbornly passionate will become music teachers and propagate the next generation of dreamers. So why, when this series of unfortunate events is one of the worst kept secrets in the music business, is the urge to make it big in music so desperate in so many? Admit it, we’ve all had musical ambitions that surpass impressing the rubber duck in the bath. Even for those who profess no desire to take the stage (or the recording studio) listening to music can be an obsession: Psy’s Gangnam Style has surely transcended terms like “craze” or “fad” to become a musical addiction of global proportions.
And addiction would appear to be exactly the right word to use. When we hear a song that we like, our bodies react by producing the neurotransmitter dopamine which engenders feelings of enjoyment. This chemical is also released when we drink a glass of water because we’re thirsty, or after we’ve had sex. In these situations, the body is rewarding actions that increase its chances of survival and reproduction so that our conscious selves will be more likely to repeat the action. So we are addicted to music, at least in the same sense that we are addicted to food, water and sex. But how then does listening to music increase the chances of our genes being passed on to the next generation?
If we were to examine modern society the answer would be that it doesn’t (unless you count the possibility that rock stars of the more promiscuous variety have had ample opportunity to “do a Genghis Khan”). The enjoyment we derive from music is now fixed not just in our genome but in our culture and natural selection have little influence. Instead, the earliest forms of music-making hold the key. An easy answer, as it were, is that musicality is a side-effect of being large brained and part of a learning culture. However this does not explain why it is chemically reinforced with dopamine.
Another theory refers to its roots in tribal settings, where music was often performed in groups and would help strengthen social bonds. Quality of life and technology would benefit from the harmony and groups devoting more time to musical activities might conceivably be in better condition or “fitter” than those groups that don’t. Problems arise, however, with this theory being evolutionary viable. For example, competition between hostile groups would more often than not have been a somewhat violent affair. Surely the early-hominids who spent less time banging sticks together and more time banging heads would win these skirmishes and so the Sinatras of the Stone Age would swiftly die out.
A more convincing argument defines music as an analogue of bird and whale song i.e. a method of communication; a signal. To be favoured by natural selection, a signal must manipulate the behaviour of its receiver in such a way that the benefit to the sender is greater than the cost of producing the signal in the first place. Some of the most elaborate signals in nature have evolved to display the quality of the individual and attract a mate. For example, the fantastical plumage and mating displays of male birds of paradise are only worthwhile if the female is persuaded to mate, the display does not attract predators or competing males, and the male does not just expire from exhaustion before he gets a chance to mate. So what message might early music have conveyed that was so beneficial to the “artist” to justify the time and energy spent perfecting their performance?
As brains became larger and more complex in primates and early-humans, thus it became more important to the survival and fitness of an individual. Growth and maintenance of the brain involves about half of all the genes in our genome, two-third of which are probably expressed no where else. Consequently, somehow conveying the quality of the brain to potential mates would be very informative and very rewarding to our large-noggined ancestors.
As a signal with the potential for immense complexity, music with both rhythm and melody requires fine motor control and a capacity for automating complex learned behaviours. A competent display not only betrays a well developed brain, but also indicates high quality in other traits too: a suitor with time enough to perfect his performance and feed himself is fit enough to provide for a family. Furthermore, as a signal of quality, music is hard to fake. This is fundamental if the signal is to stay the course of evolutionary time; on the whole, prospective mates will only attend to a signal that they can be sure is honest in its message.
And so follows sexual selection: competition between males for mates leads to more complex musical signals, whilst females evolve a preference for them. Perhaps then the dopamine response originally evolved to encourage mating and help them identify good quality signals over just average ones.
Over our evolutionary history music has become ingrained in culture rather than genetics. Grade 8 on the clarinet probably gives little indication of brain size and is, unfortunately, not much of a chat-up line. Yet French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss said that “the musical creator is a being comparable to the gods” and he is not wrong: the greatest musical icons are often the most admired and adored in society. How do we explain this? Well my cynical streak suspects that things have come full circle and now sex sells music, rather than the other way around…
Flexible phones could be the next must have piece of technology as 2013 is set to be the year that flexible phones become a reality. By the end of the year mobile phones may be bendable, rollable, foldable and maybe even wearable. Although prototypes have been around for a while, the first company predicted to deliver bendy phones to customers will be Samsung.
In an increasingly saturated market, Samsung are hoping to differentiate themselves from their competitors by offering a unique product. Samsung favours smartphones with flexible OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) technology, and is confident that they will be “very popular among consumers worldwide”. OLEDs, which are currently used in some televisions and smartphones, have made the flexible phone technology possible as they compact and can withstand being placed on ductile materials such as plastic and foil. The new screens “will allow for a high degree of durability through their use of a plastic substrate that is thinner, lighter and more flexible than conventional LCD technology,” says a Samsung spokesperson. Over a year has passed since Samsung showcased its Galaxy Skin (pictured), which purported to offer a high-resolution 800×480 flexible OLED screen and eight megapixel camera. It is still yet to be released.
Designing a bendy phone has its challenges: every component, including the battery, touchscreen and outer shell must be flexible. However, the benefit of a flexible phone mean that students would be able to roll the phones, drop them, and throw them into their bags without the risk of damaging them. Students would also benefit as costs to replace cracked phone screens may start becoming a thing of the past.
It is possible the that new flexible phone technology could be made wearable in the form of a watch and consequently could prove to be the next must have fashion accessory of 2013 but we’ll have to wait and see.
[caption id="attachment_25884" align="alignright" width="300"] Patagonian iceberg off the coast of South America/Science Photo Library, Javier Trueba[/caption]
Recent studies in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres have shown ice fields to be melting at a rate that is much higher than previously predicted. White ice reflects sunlight, helping keep the atmosphere cool, but as it melts, a vicious cycle is created as more sunlight is absorbed and the air temperature increases further.
In the Southern hemisphere, scientists have been monitoring the North and South Patagonian ice fields in the Andes Mountains. A new study by researchers at Cornell University has shown that glacial thinning has increased by 50% since the millennium, compared to the previous thirty years. Until 2000, the average contribution to rising sea levels from both ice fields was about 0.042mm each year, but this has since increased to an average of 0.067mm. In fact, the amount of water lost from the Southern Patagonian Ice field alone over the last twelve years can submerge the United States in 2.7cm of water, and if we were to include the melt from the Northern Patagonian Ice field, this figure rises to 3.3cm.
Whilst warming air temperatures contribute directly to glacial thinning in the highest and coldest regions of the ice fields, the real danger is the increasing chance of rain, as opposed to snow, as the climate warms up. The concern now is that with the twofold threat of increasing air temperatures and more rain, the amount of water underneath the glaciers could increase, reducing the friction beneath them and causing them to move faster into the sea.
Meanwhile, in the Northern hemisphere, the Arctic ice fields are also melting at a rate far higher than previously predicted. In 1980, the arctic accounted for 2% of the world’s surface area; a figure which has since halved. The remaining ice is also thinner than it has historically been, and this summer, the volume of ice in the Arctic is just a quarter of what it was thirty years ago.
Scientists are now predicting that melting ice fields could become a more significant factor to global warming than greenhouse gases. In an occurrence known as the albedo effect, melting sheets of white ice, which reflect the sun’s rays back out of the atmosphere, helping to keep the air cool, are giving way to dark water, which is absorbing this heat. The increase in global warming as a result of the thinning ice fields is predicted to be as much as 20 years’ worth of carbon dioxide emissions. In addition, as the arctic heats up, the course of the jet stream, which is determined by the temperature difference between here and the tropics, could change. This could lead to wet summers in Northern Europe, and hot dry summers further south. It could also steer storms over the UK, leading to more wet summers like the one we’ve been having this year.
The future is still very unclear, but studies such as those in the Andes are essential in building up a model that can be used to predict the thinning of icefields across the world. Opinions on the Arctic vary, but the Met Office does not predict an ice-free summer until after 2030.