Field Notes from a Catastrophe book review

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 12:43 PM GMT on July 14, 2006

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Elizabeth Kolbert is a writer for the New Yorker magazine. A three-part series she wrote for the magazine in 2005 has been converted into a short, well-researched, and very readable book on climate change called, "Field Notes from a Catastrophe" ($15 from amazon.com). The science presented is excellent, and I couldn't find any errors. Kolbert visits leading climate change scientists in the field, spending time in the Arctic, Greenland, Dr. James Hansen's laboratory, and in United Nations climate change meetings. We get to see the science the way these scientists see it, which is a very powerful way to emphasize the major climate changes that are already underway on our planet.

Kolbert delivers a memorable description of a visit to Alaska, where record temperatures have begun melting permafrost that formed at the beginning of the last ice age, 120,000 years ago. She visits the remote island of Sarichef, five miles off the coast of the Seward Peninsula. A subsistence hunting village has existed there for centuries. However, the entire population of 591 must be relocated to the mainland because the island is eroding away. The problem? Lack of the customary sea ice in the fall has allowed storm surges from the powerful storms that hit during that season to push far inland. Kolbert talks to an Inuit hunter named John Keogak, who lives in Canada's Northwest Territories, 500 miles north of the Arctic circle. He and his fellow hunters started seeing robins for the first time a few years ago. The Inuits have no word for the bird in their language. Kolbert travels to "drunken forests" where the trees lean at crazy angles due to the collapse of the permafrost beneath. In one of many of the odd and amusing observations the book is sprinkled with, she writes:

A few blocks beyond the drunken forest, we came to a house where the front yard showed clear signs of ice wedge melt-off. The owner, trying to make the best of things, had turned the yard into a miniature golf course.

As the title implies, this is not a cheerful book, and Kolbert paints a gloomy picture of the how climate change is affecting the planet. I highly recommend the book for those interested in reading about climate change. Three and a half stars.

Jeff Masters

Permafrost Collapse (akalaska)
Climate change is causing rapid coastal erosion in the Arctic. As the permafrost melts, the land falls into the ocean. (Elson Lagoon, Barrow, Alaska)
Permafrost Collapse
Coastal Erosion (akalaska)
A scientist is taking high-precision GPS measurements of coastal erosion in the Arctic, due to melting permafrost. The coast is eroding at the rate of 3-12 feet per year.
Coastal Erosion

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323. Fshhead
8:44 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Man & Andrew was loaded with tornadoes & EXTREME micro-downbursts
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322. chefjeff
4:29 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
If we're going to talk about experience. I was born in hollywood Fl in '49. Moved to Ft. Myers in '68. I've been brushed, squeezed and knocked out. I know where these things are coming from and how hard they'll hit.
321. Fshhead
8:39 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
yea I gotta say we got hit pretty bad BUT, as soon as you hit 152nd & south of... OH MY GOD!!
Like a bomb went off.
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320. supercell216
8:40 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Yep Fshhead, lucky for all of those people.
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318. txweather
3:16 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
I like people on both side of the blob arguement so I stay out it generally. But a few words here.
When will there be NO development?
a) shear>20knts(unless nontropical low, but lets ignore this)
b) SST<26
c) dry air in system
d) no preexisting disturbance

However, once the above conditions do not exist any disturbance has a chance(not a good one) Historically 1/6 of disturbances develop.(1/10 waves, but thats talking apples and oranges).

The sad fact is that, other than elimination(from above mentioned factors) we have little skill in forecasting tropical cyclone genesis. Basically even the hurricane center simply responds to what is happening and once organization develops they jump on the band wagon.

Weather03,WSI,gulfscottman, et al, DO you want me to look back to last year and see the average lead time to development?. It would take alittle bit of time and i have something else to do, but it could be interesting. for reference I'd use when the term tropical depression was first used in a potential system. I could also look(this would take long) for negatives where the used TD, but nothing happened.
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317. supercell216
8:39 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Yeah CB just east of Coral Reef Park.
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316. Fshhead
8:37 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Ludlam, know it well. Yea Andrew was a mother of a storm. Alot of suffering after that one. Just Thank God it went in south of Miami. If it would have gone through there, OUCH!!!!
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314. Tazmanian
1:38 PM PDT on July 14, 2006
we got 99w
Member Since: May 21, 2006 Posts: 5091 Comments: 114732
313. supercell216
8:37 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Apparently a homeowner near Turkey Point recorded a wind gust of 208 mph.
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312. Fshhead
8:35 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Pony, no prob'. My friends always tell me I am really good at finding info on the net. I am more than willing to look if it helps the cause. Keep up the good work!!!!
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311. supercell216
8:36 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Wow outrocket!!!
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310. Zaphod
8:35 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
"Explain your reasoning and discuss, thats the best way to learn."

Punk, I think you got this right.

Who cares who proclaims "a storm will develop HERE in 37 hours, and THERE in 42 days" or those who say "go sleep well until next week"?

The value is added only when people with (or without) knowledge state their reasoning alongside their predictions and others refute the predictions with better reasoning.

I learn a lot here, but sometimes it's kinda hard to discard all the chaff! No worse than any other forum that I read, though. By all means, let's over-analyze every wave and blob -does your favorite sports team only play on game day?

Thanks to all (like Dr. M) who post earnestly and with supporting material. That's what makes this blog worthwhile!
Zap
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309. Randrewl
4:33 PM AST on July 14, 2006
The point is this people. No matter what you have experienced regarding tropical cyclones...you have not seen the worst yet! It is nothing to be proud of or brag about. I only mention it to mark a reference point. It is destruction and death and anyone who feels differently should not post here. There is nothing "cool" or "exciting" about the one eye that is about to ruin your life!
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31602
308. outrocket
3:26 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
does camille,Frederic,Ivan, and katrina count..or do I need to Add Danny ,Opal,Georges,Elaina,and a few others??
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307. supercell216
8:33 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
I was in eastern Kendall, just off Ludlam Road.
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306. Skyepony (Mod)
8:25 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Fshhead my search for the solar generator after Fances & Jeanne turned up nothing like what you've been finding. The link to how to make your own AC & or DC solar generator was awesome. So simple... I could make it & I have no real background in that area. I'm gonna do a beefed up version & I think I'll run my entertainment center off of it in the non-hurricane power outages times.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 161 Comments: 37359
305. Fshhead
8:34 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Hey & Buster, I got a question for you. I always heard rumor that Turkey Point recorded wind gusts over 200 mph. Is this true??? Always wondered about that....
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304. Fshhead
8:30 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Yo Supercell where were you located for Andrew. I also was in northern eyewall. I live right around the corner from Country Walk. Definite cat. 5 winds here.
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303. supercell216
8:31 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Yes CB, I can't believe it took them so long. My weather station recorded 3 Category 5 guts before being demolished, and yet they said Category 4!!!
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302. supercell216
8:30 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
I'm not bragging. I payed over 14K for the damages to my house in Charley, and my house in Kendall was 90% levelled during Andrew.
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300. Randrewl
4:29 PM AST on July 14, 2006
supercell216 ...I've heard all that whining I can take. Charley was not anything in central Florida. You should have seen Punta Gorda. Stop your bragging!
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31602
299. Randrewl
4:28 PM AST on July 14, 2006
Fshhead...Great info. Thanks!
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31602
298. supercell216
8:25 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Charley most certainly was. It did more damage in Orlando than Frances and Jeanne combined. We got 100-110 sustained from that. Seems like you have had a few bad storms as well. And yes, I got the northern eyewall of Andrew, Category 5 winds for about 20 minutes.
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297. Randrewl
4:24 PM AST on July 14, 2006
Sorry...Charley , Frances and Jeanne were not major storms by the time they got to wherever you are in the safety of Central Florida. Andrew, if you were actually there...would qualify and it seems like you move around a lot or are you just some hurricane "freak" that likes to get in the track. Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne tracked right in the St. lucie inlet less than a half mile from my house. Wilma's eye...right here. So three eyes in two years not to mention countless other canes and storms here in the past 50 years. Most people on here that "brag" about being in bad storms...have absolutely no experience at all. That has been my understanding.
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31602
296. Fshhead
8:25 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Pony I got to commend you on your blog topic. It is a really good idea. I really like the solar generator you brought up!!!!!!!!!!!
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295. chefjeff
4:17 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
Just got home from work. There's enough hot air on this blog to create a superstorm.
294. punkasshans
8:10 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
My personal feeling is this website is just a bunch of people who are trying to find the storm before everyone else and say 'look, look, I called that one first!'

We shouldn't care who called it, we should only care about why it occured and how it could occur in the future. Thus, forecasting storms later will be much easier. The arguements about who 'called it' are useless and old indeed.

Let people try to forecast things, give it a whirl. It is not like the predictions in here are going to change anyone's lives. And if someone does change their life off of a prediction in here, they need to realize 99.5% of us are not pros. Everyone try to keep up the good work. Explain your reasoning and discuss, thats the best way to learn.
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293. Fshhead
8:20 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Link
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292. supercell216
8:20 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Agreed weatherguy03.
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291. Fshhead
8:19 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
What's up gang??? Hey Randrewl I found another type of power pack. solar generator. could be really good for power outages
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290. Skyepony (Mod)
8:12 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
I figured the Extremely High Horizon Refraction guy would have a news update with the hottest 1st 1/2 of the year anouncement.

I know this isn't peer reviewed science but in ways it's centuries old & well his prodictions keep coming true, so I keep posting them.

Long awaited NASA correction showed up, making May 2006 2nd warmest in history for the Northern Hemisphere. Nunavut area weather data was not included, adding its data boosted the NH temperature ranking.

Also June 2006 warmest in Global temperature history for the Northern Hemisphere beating 2005. The Russian winter cold spot has now disappeared, in its wake a significant warming has occurred at exactly the same location.

This will make it highly likely that summer of 2006 will exceed summer of 2005 as warmest in history, exactly as foretold below. Present Montreal summer of 2006 measurements were hampered by clouds and equipment failures, nevertheless, a significant number of observations show a dead heat between 2005-2006 differential refraction values, suggesting 2006 will edge over 2005 in vertical sun disk diameters.

WD July 10,2006


Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 161 Comments: 37359
289. weatherguy03
4:19 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
Oh well, back to the weather right?..LOL This is what happens on a less then exciting day:)
Member Since: July 5, 2005 Posts: 590 Comments: 29698
288. supercell216
8:18 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Andrew, in Kendall (5 miles from where the eye crossed land). Erin in 1995, in Melbourne. Charley (Orlando), Frances (Orlando), and Jeanne (Orlando).
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287. Randrewl
4:18 PM AST on July 14, 2006
weatherguy03...I hear that.
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31602
286. supercell216
8:17 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Did any of you see the person that modified a NHC tropical outlook last night to say that the area in the central Caribbean was going to produce a tropical cyclone immediately?
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285. Randrewl
4:17 PM AST on July 14, 2006
supercell216..Which hurricanes and where ?
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31602
284. weatherguy03
4:17 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
I never made it personal, I never do, not my style. He is the one that dug up my posts from last year!..LOL Who they heck does that?..LOL
Member Since: July 5, 2005 Posts: 590 Comments: 29698
283. supercell216
8:15 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
No problem weatherguy03. And you are right; after being in 5 hurricanes (3 of them catastrophic) during my life, I can understand why many take things like that to the bank.
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282. Randrewl
4:15 PM AST on July 14, 2006
weatherguy03...I'm very sorry if that happened and I considered that when he posted. But really.....is it personal?
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31602
281. outrocket
3:14 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
not a matter of thin skinned its a matter of respect...which you seem to forget when dealing with others here..This place is what we make it..I personally dont want jerks with personal level remarks just to boost their EGO...do you?
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280. weatherguy03
4:15 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
*take
Member Since: July 5, 2005 Posts: 590 Comments: 29698
279. supercell216
8:14 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Ok I'll accept that.
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278. weatherguy03
4:12 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
Thanks supercell. Actually Rand, they are not tongue in cheek to some who read them. I have gotten 5 e-mails today from people who thought there was a TS forming in the Gulf from the stuff he said. This is no joke on here. People that this stuff seriously.
Member Since: July 5, 2005 Posts: 590 Comments: 29698
277. Randrewl
4:12 PM AST on July 14, 2006
That's a good question. I assure you it is not to show that I am thin skinned in any way like some on here!
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31602
276. supercell216
8:12 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
And why are you on here Randrewl if there is obviously no reason to be here? Not being smart or sarcastic, just wanted to know.
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275. Randrewl
4:12 PM AST on July 14, 2006
So what....talk about the weather!
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31602
274. supercell216
8:11 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
That last post was not tongue in cheek.
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273. Randrewl
4:09 PM AST on July 14, 2006
You whiney babies need to take a break. Nobody is attacking you personally and GSC's posts are always tongue in cheek. Find something else to do.
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31602

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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.