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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123. StormJunkie
5:03 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Ya'll try and remember the Dr asked us to keep pictures to a minimum. some do still have dial up. Links work just as well though.

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122. highndry
5:01 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Gulf - was it Irene?
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121. tigerbait
4:59 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Think of atmosphereic pressure as an indicator of the "warmth" of the air above you. Generally speaking, the warmer the air above your head is, the lower the pressure at the surface.

So, if the pressure is high, then that indicates that the air above is a bit cool, which indicates that the storm development process has not progressed very far.

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119. StormJunkie
5:00 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Posted By: EdMahmoud at 4:58 PM GMT on July 14, 2006.

But I saw something yesterday that Hurricane Alicia, which hit as a Cat 3 after forming on the end of an old frontal boundary, had a 1014 mb pressure when it became a TC.

What were the pressures arounf Alicia at the time?

I heard someone say, maybe Mike Naso, that the high would be building and this would create a more favorable environment for formation.

SJ
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118. HurricaneMyles
5:03 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
I would just use the NHC post season report.

Or better yet, here's the best track image.
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115. StormJunkie
4:56 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
I am not sure about that s03, I think it may be a week or more. Just a geuss though. If it is a week or more and the Gulf and E coast continue to have very light cloud cover and this heat wave continues then the SSTs are going to jump back up again in these areas.

I have said this before, I and will say it again, I do not think the number of storms will be very improtant in how this season plays out, but if we have any landfalling systems I am concerned that we could see rapid intensification with some of these systems prior to landfall. Something like Andrew, but more on the size scale of Hugo. Again this is just my amatuer opinion.

SJ
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114. HurricaneMyles
4:58 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
In fact, Ivan became the strong cyclone ever in the Atlantic at below 10N. You cant do that if you're not named until the Antilles.
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113. thelmores
4:55 PM GMT on July 14, 2006


this feature and trough in the straights has been persistant for quite a while, and it appears to me that t-storms are on the increase....

due to the location and conditions, it is "possible" we could get some development out of this. I wouldnt consider it wishcasting.... given what is on the satellite and location.....
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112. EdMahmoud
4:55 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
I think pressures being high is considered a negative for development because high pressures would imply generally diverging air near the area.


But I saw something yesterday that Hurricane Alicia, which hit as a Cat 3 after forming on the end of an old frontal boundary, had a 1014 mb pressure when it became a TC.


So high pressures aren't favorable, but not a 100% guarantee.
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111. HurricaneMyles
4:57 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
According to WU Ivan was named at 30W. Thats about as Cape Verde as it gets.
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109. HurricaneMyles
4:56 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Isabel was a Cat 2, but doesnt matter - Ivan hit as a Cat 3 in 2004. What a monster he was, too.
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107. sporteguy03
4:48 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
THE TROPICS ARE QUIET AND CONDITIONS ARE NOT CONDUCIVE FOR TROPICAL
CYCLONE FORMATION.

That statement sounds scary, while the tropics are quiet...something will begin to brew very soon...sometimes too quiet means something is going on...
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106. HurricaneMyles
4:53 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Either Ivan or Isabel(She was a Cat 3 rught?)
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105. StormJunkie
4:53 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
I hope you already know the answer GS. I don't.
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103. rxse7en
12:49 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
How's our big Cape Verde wave lookin' today?


B
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101. StormJunkie
4:42 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Afternoon all.

I know we are on shear right now, but Ihave aquestion about pressure if ya'll don't mind.

I have heard several times that "pressures are too high" for formation. I have also heard some say that tropical systems rely on the pressure gradient. Hence some TDs can have pressures over 1010mb. What gives here?

Also for those of you looking for modesl, wind data, marine data, imagery, and much more you can find the best information on the web through StormJunkie.com
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100. ProgressivePulse
4:39 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
850mb Winds
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97. HurricaneMyles
4:33 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
HSS(A lot shorter)

Yes, wind shear is different at different levels of the atmosphere. There is mid level shear and upper level shear. These both effect developing systems. It would be reasonable to think that weak systems would only be affected by mid level shear(and it has happened, check out the hybrid systems last year), but since most stong thunderstrom tops get into the upper levels of the atmosphere, even tropical disturbance create convection(thunderstorms) that are high enough to be effected by upper level shear.

The hybrid storms last year(Vince, Delta, Epsilon, & Zeta) all transistion from upper level lows and had very weak convection that was not very cold, which means it not very high up in the atmosphere. Because of that, they were most affected by mid level shear, which was weak, rather then the upper level shear, which was strong. Tropical systems that dont make the transistion from ULL almost always create very cold convection(very high in the atmosphere) and are ussually ripped apart by strong upper level shear, even if its just a tropical wave.
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94. Inyo
4:15 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
I've been told by a very well informed friend that the 'oil shale' is largely a scam. it would also involve ruining vast reaches of our country and for that alone, I think we shouldn't use it... much less the fact that it may not even exist. People are trying to 'sell' shares of land/oil speculation out there... if you want in, I also have some swampland in Louisiana I'd like to sell you...

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91. HurricaneMyles
4:02 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
HobeSoundShudder,

Shear maps SHOULD say roughly the same things. However, the WU shear map always seems to show relativly favorable shear. I use CIMSS for getting my wind analysis of the different ocean basins. All you do is click on "Winds and Analyses" in the ocean basin you would like to look at and you can check out upper level winds, lower level winds, shear, vorticity, and more.
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87. Stormy2day
11:54 AM EDT on July 14, 2006
did i say that out loud?
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86. Stormy2day
11:50 AM EDT on July 14, 2006
2 signs of eddies in the gulf, 2 signs of eddy, take one down, pass it around ...1 sign of eddy in the gulf, 1 sign of eddy ...
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85. Tazmanian
8:46 AM PDT on July 14, 2006
2 things her

the 1st thing is that the sea temps or red hot then they where last time at this year

2 thing is there are not 1 eddy in the gulf but there are 2 eddy in the gulf this year there one biger eddy in the gulf and there one smaller eddy in the gulf so there are 2 eddy this year in the gulf not good and add in the red hot sea temps to go with it
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84. seflagamma
11:46 AM EDT on July 14, 2006
LOL you are all very funny!:o)
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82. lightning10
3:37 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Looks like it was the second warmest January-June on record.

RECORD WARM FIRST HALF OF YEAR
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80. turtlehurricane
3:41 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
always lively here :)
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79. quakeman55
3:41 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
I suspect the tropics will heat up very very soon...usually when it's so quiet like this, in a few days the tables will turn and stuff will be starting to happen outta nowhere...we'll see.
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78. weatherguy03
11:33 AM EDT on July 14, 2006
Even on one of the most tranquil days we may seen in the tropics this season, GulfScott has something to talk about!..LOL
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76. HurricaneMyles
3:33 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
GulfScotsMan,

The computers models are extremely complicated. As you may or may not know all weather is principles of physics. It happens because of physics, and physics can be modelled by math. I honestly dont know the difference between what the dynimcal models do differently from each other, but they imput the current conditions around the globe, and using 100's of mathmatical forumula for how energy, motion, ect relate to eachother, the model spits out info into how these things should change.

As for the reason why the two models see what they are seeing - It's most likely because the two models evolve very similair conditions up to the point of where the cyclone forms. Other models must forecast much different condtions that would not support cyclone development.
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75. EdMahmoud
3:29 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Gulf Scotsman-

That looks like a map of climatologically favored areas for formation and common cyclone tracks for the month of July.


That isn't a forecast.
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73. seflagamma
11:26 AM EDT on July 14, 2006
Hi everone, just another check back to see if anything happening. It appears nothing serious is out there this afternoon, correct?

Thats a good thing.

will check back in later if I can.
Gams
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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.

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