Winds ofchange All of which is fascinating From the hu man rather than the

Winds ofchange all of which is fascinating from the

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Winds ofchangeAll of which is fascinating. From the hu-man, rather than the copepod point ofview, though, the biggest question aboutthe Arcticisthis: isitaffectingother partsofthe Earth’s climate—those regions wherepeople live? Jennifer Francis of RutgersUniversityarguesthatitis. Because the poles are cold, warm airflows from the equator north and south inorderto equalise temperatures. The Earth’srotation disturbs these air currents, creat-ing (in the northern hemisphere) the jetstream, which flowsaround the planet in a
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The EconomistFebruary 14th 2015 Science and technology712wavy pattern, bringing up warm air andmaking north-west Europe hotter thanotherplacesatthe same latitude. If the temperature gap between thenorth pole and the equator narrows (be-cause the Arctic is warming faster), thenthe poleward flow of air might falter. Andwind speeds have indeed been dropping.That could have two consequences. One isthat it may increase the so-called “SiberianHigh”, a huge build-up of dry, freezing airthat is known to affect much of the north-ern hemisphere’sweather—forthereseems to be a link between the loss of seaice in parts of the Arctic and lower tem-peratures in Siberia. The other is that, asthe jet stream weakens, its waves becomeexaggerated, creating pockets of air con-nected with extreme weather events, suchas the exceptional cold that hit the Ameri-can Midwestin January2014. Both ideas are controversial. The linksbetween these weather patterns and thewarmer Arctic are unproven. Some cli-mate scientistsdismissthem asstatisticallyirrelevant. Variation is so great, they argue,that if there is some sort of signal from themelting Arctic, it is being lost in the noise.For the same reason, however, it is too ear-ly to write off the signal altogether. Onlytime will allow it, if it exists, to be separat-ed from the noise.One thing does seem certain, though.Whether the Arctic Ocean’s awakening isfor good, or ill, or both, it is unstoppable.That makes understanding it, and antici-patingitseffects, essential. 7IN MANY ways, litmus paper is the per-fect scientific sensor. It is cheap, requiresno power or skill to use and yields instantresults. Blue paper turns red in acids. Redpaper turns blue in alkalis. And that is allyouneed to know. In the real world, though, things are abitmore complicated. Acidityisnota blackand white (or even red and blue) affair.Rather, itismeasured on the pH scale, rang-ing from strong acids (pH 1), through neu-tral, pure water (pH 7) to strong bases (pH14). Measuring pH precisely needs specialequipment. And in the rough-and-tumbleof the sea rather than on the calm of thelaboratorybench, thatequipmentneeds tobe robust, aswell. Such marine measurements are impor-tant, however, in order to track the acidifi-cation of the ocean that is being broughtabout by rising carbon-dioxide levels inthe air. The XPRIZEfoundation, a charitythat runs technology competitions, hastherefore put up $2m in prize money, to beawarded to those inventors who can come
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