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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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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72. IKE
10:28 AM CDT on July 14, 2006
Gulf Scotsman...I think those 2 models are picking up on what the NAM is picking up in 84 hours...western Caribbean activity..but those 2 models wait to form something when it crosses the Yucatan I guess.
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70. IKE
10:25 AM CDT on July 14, 2006
Check out the unreliable NAM model...Link

Note the low NE of PR in 84 hours and the spin and development in the NW Caribbean.
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69. guygee
3:25 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Posted By: EdMahmoud at 2:53 PM GMT on July 14, 2006.
Because when Al Gore was VPOTUS, and in position to do something about it, after Kyoto was signed, the Clinton Administration never bothered to submit it to the Senate for ratification. Now, it would have had a rocky road in a Republican Senate, but Clinton got other things done in the Senate, and could have at least tried.

Thank you for your thoughtful and well considered response, Ed. Many good points in that post, I just chose the first one in my quote above. IMHO, Gore was probably blinded by his presidential ambitions at the time, and the Clintons were always at the core of the "New Way" triangulating movement in the Democratic Party, so your answer makes sense.

I am glad to see you are looking at viable solutions to the problem...RealClimate did an interesting article in favor of a market for CO2 offsets recently, you might find it interesting: Buying a stairway to heaven?

Personally, I think we have already passed the point where we are bound to see an ice-free Arctic Ocean within most people's lifetime here, and our economy is just so dependant on fossil fuels that we are going much deeper into the "rabbit hole" before we see the light...

Well...I vowed not to blog my day away today, so I will check back later for other responses. I hope everyone has a good one, and enjoys the peaceful tropics today...
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68. EdMahmoud
3:22 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
The people who actually know of what they talk have spoken


TROPICAL WEATHER OUTLOOK
NWS TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER MIAMI FL
1130 AM EDT FRI JUL 14 2006

FOR THE NORTH ATLANTIC...CARIBBEAN SEA AND THE GULF OF MEXICO...

THE TROPICS ARE QUIET AND CONDITIONS ARE NOT CONDUCIVE FOR TROPICAL
CYCLONE FORMATION.


TROPICAL STORM FORMATION IS NOT EXPECTED THROUGH SATURDAY.

$$

FORECASTER AVILA/LANDSEA



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66. IKE
10:22 AM CDT on July 14, 2006
Record highs are forecasted for the northern plains...on TWC this morning it was showing 110's in a small area of the Dakota's...this weekend.
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65. EdMahmoud
3:09 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
In GSC's defense

If anything did pop in the GOMEX, it would have 30ºC water to cross and shear of 5 to 10 knots, so it would find conditions generally favorable for strengthening.

But current 500 mb heights would suggest West to West-Northwest motion if something were to form. Louisiana or Texas.



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64. txweather
10:19 AM CDT on July 14, 2006
Personally i wish jeff would keep this blog on tropics, but its his blog and he's the man. Also the tropics are quiete right now so we have to talk about something.

If you want a good perspective on the global warming goto junkscience.com.

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63. Canesinlowplaces
11:17 AM EDT on July 14, 2006
Randrewl - that was a great link. Appreciate it.
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61. turtlehurricane
3:15 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
gulfscottsman, middle-low level is not surface
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60. lightning10
3:10 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Please someone out there make the record heat in the west go away. Temps have been above average for the past 4 weeks.

I would also like to note that there is a storng chance of Thunderstroms in and around the Los Angeles area. If this forcast holds it would be interesting to see if any rain falls because it wouldnt take a whole lot of rain to break records.
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59. IKE
10:12 AM CDT on July 14, 2006
High pressure is building in from the east...whatever's in the gulf is headed west and is predicted to fizzle out.
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56. EdMahmoud
3:03 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Judging from this satellite loop, any talk about a 'Tropical Depression #2' probably falls into the realm of fantasy or 'wish-casting'.
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55. PascMississippi
3:02 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
GulfScotsman, are you saying that there is a depression in the gulf right now?
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53. turtlehurricane
2:58 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
i should have specified, early morning before sunrise.
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52. StormJunkie
2:57 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
I am out. See ya'll later

SJ
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51. StormJunkie
2:56 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
So turtle, a diurnal max can occur at any time? Day or night?
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49. StormJunkie
2:55 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Yes GS
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48. turtlehurricane
2:51 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
The diurnal maximum is basically when a layer of cool air forms in the atmosphere above the clouds and stimulates any existing convection to expand torwards the cold air as well as cause instability. Basically the same as SJ but, the correct definition.
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47. StormJunkie
2:54 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Sorry guygee and cb. Guess I was off on that one.

SJ
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44. StormJunkie
2:51 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
guygee, I think he is reffering to places like Salt dome, which I do not know a lot about, but it is part of the startigic oil reserve. Oil the Gov has put away for a rainy day. Only problem is we have had a couple of rainy (Katrina and 9-11 namely) days and have not used any of it I do not think. These may have just been considered light showers so the oil was not used. I hate to see a down pour that would justify using the stratigic reserve.

SJ
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43. EdMahmoud
2:44 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Because when Al Gore was VPOTUS, and in position to do something about it, after Kyoto was signed, the Clinton Administration never bothered to submit it to the Senate for ratification. Now, it would have had a rocky road in a Republican Senate, but Clinton got other things done in the Senate, and could have at least tried.

From what I understand, Kyoto was not well written, and the burden fell heavily on the US.


Now, being a current petroleum engineer, and a former Navy nuclear reactor operator, I think I have some perspective.


A real policy for CO2 might involve a carbon tax, but that would hit coal states the hardest, since coal produces the most CO2 per BTU, and Senator Byrd (former Ku Klux Klan Grand Klaxon, BTW,) opposes it.

Of all the fossil fuels, natural gas burns the cleanest, one carbon per four cleaner hydrogen atoms.

Hydrogen fuel cells and the such are a good idea, except hydrogen doesn't usually exist in the useful form. The water is full of hydrogen in its low energy state, water, but to be useful as a fuel, it needs to be converted to its high energy state.

Which is where nuclear power comes in. I believe a civilian version of the Navy's A4W/A1G nuclear reactor, designed with far more safeguards and backups than most commerical reactors, and fairly easily built, could produce greenhouse gas free energy, which could be used to generate hydrogen, or charge batteries for electric powered vehicles, etc.


Just my opinion.


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42. Tannim
9:53 AM CDT on July 14, 2006
Posted By: thelmores at 9:39 AM CDT on July 14, 2006.
"I just don't understand how this issue of science got so politicized in this country..."

Simple my friend...... money! (see greed)

in some cases, greed can be good, but in the case of the environment, well, you can draw your own conclusions! ;)

I find that soceity as a whole looks for the sexiness of a topic. For instance, cancer versus erectile disfunction. We all know there is alot of research going on about cancer, but look how focused the pharm. community became manufacturing drugs like viagra. It is the same about global warming. As a couple of folks have said today, I realize we are in a warming trend, but I have not seen anything to lead me to believe one way or another about ultimate causes. Unfortunately for some folks out there, it is sexier to blame humans for everything.
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40. guygee
2:51 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
cyclonebuster - Could you please be a little more specific as to the location of this 2 trillion barrels of domestic oil? Are you referring to "shale oil" deposits?
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39. StormJunkie
2:45 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
The diurnal max is created by the cooler air at night. The warm ocean waters create heat that rises through the cooling air due to the cooler night time air. This can lead to instablility in the atmosphere. This is part of it I think. The other part is that with the cooler night time air cloud tops in turn can get cooler creating deeper more intense convection.

That is my understanding. Please someone correct me if I have mistated or not clarified something.

SJ
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36. guygee
2:41 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
thelmores - Thank you for responding, but I am still confused by your answer. Who are the "greedy" ones, in your opinion? Just trying to understand your point of view.
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35. thelmores
2:36 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
"I just don't understand how this issue of science got so politicized in this country..."

Simple my friend...... money! (see greed)

in some cases, greed can be good, but in the case of the environment, well, you can draw your own conclusions! ;)


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34. guygee
2:36 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Posted By: EdMahmoud at 1:47 PM GMT on July 14, 2006.
[...](Questions whether cause of Global Warming is natural or anthropogenic)[...]
I don't think that has been resolved, from what I've read, although it would seem people that oppose capitalism on ideological grounds prefer the latter.

EdMahmoud - I know this is a "touchy" topic, but I bring this up just out of pure curiosity and with respect for your opinion. But I am trying to understand why you among many others think that it is people "who do not believe in capitalism" who prefer to think that GW is caused by humans? Certain Soviet scientists were long-time GW skeptics, present-day Russia doesn’t seem to care much, mostly Muslim OPEC would like to see us continue to use oil until it is all gone, "Red" China is rapidly industrializing and will not participate in negotiations over CO2 emissions on an equal basis, and "socialist" Europe is still a major source of CO2 (Just somewhat better than the U.S. per capita).

I just don't understand how this issue of science got so politicized in this country...

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33. thelmores
2:20 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
"I don't think too many people in the know (and I'm not one of them) doubt that the Earth is in a warming phase, the question is whether this is a natural cycle, a natural cycle with a little influence from man-made greenhouse gases, or a warming ebing driven predominantly by man-made greenhouse gases.

I don't think that has been resolved, from what I've read, although it would seem people that oppose capitalism on ideological grounds prefer the latter."

touche'

saved me from having to type it out...... Ikw, saw the swirls to..... atm thats about all it appears to be is just that.... a swirl.... certainly don't see much on the radar......


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31. ProgressivePulse
2:08 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
I think turtle still has the picture on his blog highlighting that occourance.
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29. ProgressivePulse
2:06 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
rxse - If you remember the large ULL from a couple of weeks ago! There were several mini vorticie orbiting the main circulation.
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28. weatherhunter
2:05 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
I think we will i mean as some of the Computer models are saying that shear is on the rise now but towards the middle to the end of the Month Shear is to Decrease
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26. StormJunkie
1:56 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
To a large extint I agree with you Ed, but the only issue I see is that if we wait to long to get in panic mode it may not do any good because it is too late. It is a very interesting debate and problem.
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25. KShurricane
9:00 AM CDT on July 14, 2006
Navy site shows no invests anywhere in the world today.
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24. EdMahmoud
1:55 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
OK, enough about that, I know it isn't a popular topic.



Looks like after a few showers today, tonight and early tomorrow, a good beach weekend coming up for Texas.


http://adds.aviationweather.gov/satellite/displaySat.php?region=GULF&isingle=mult_big&itype=vis
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23. rxse7en
9:58 AM EDT on July 14, 2006
IKE, I see it. Can't tell if it's just and eddy from that big ULL that went through or something else altogether. Maybe someone who knows can tell us.

B
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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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