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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723. Fshhead
7:45 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
I will read it though, as I have said all along I want to hear both sides..
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722. Fshhead
7:45 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Posted By: snowboy at 6:22 AM GMT on July 15, 2006.
Randrewl, the link provides a nefarious mix of fact and fiction (all from the perspective of the "doubter" side of the debate - given its length, I'm not going to try to debunk it all.
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721. Fshhead
7:44 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
ahhhhh I don't think they bought the dismissal of the warming LMAO!!!
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718. Fshhead
7:40 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
saw some comments from the boys about your blog.
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717. Fshhead
7:40 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
cool cool just razzin ya...
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715. Fshhead
7:27 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
man this site acting weird lately....
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714. Fshhead
7:25 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Whats up ya'll
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713. Fshhead
7:24 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Randrewl I think you live here...LOL
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710. Skyepony (Mod)
7:11 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
good point, I shouldn't look at everything in 3-D..hmmm still looks different.

I'll check back for ya'lls results in the morning or the article of a WU blogger in the GOM.lol
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708. Skyepony (Mod)
7:09 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
oh one last thought ~ perhaps the edge of one of those currents could be verified by buoy?
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703. Skyepony (Mod)
6:43 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Michael~ I dug up the surface currents on the nowcast for comparasion (the other I posted was temps at 100m~ maybe the heat got carried left). Your right though the navy is to the right of nowcast. Navy doesn't look like it's right at the surface (dry ocean areas in the shallows, but it's not 200m, which is the next decending nowcast current). Even at the 200m depth the current is still left. I noticed the other day about the navy not totally detached yet too. I standby the nowcast since it is the cutting edge. Maybe we can get Randrel to take a boat & gps out there for some current measuring.lol Or better yet DR Master's opinion on which is the more accurate one.

Til Tommarrow
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702. StormThug
1:52 AM CDT on July 15, 2006
wow nice too see the tropics quiet
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700. StormThug
1:48 AM CDT on July 15, 2006
yo
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689. Skyepony (Mod)
6:23 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
check out the 100m deep sea temp on the gulf loop eddy that got away from the gulf stream the other day in the GOM.
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687. louastu
6:24 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Good night Alec.
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686. Alec
2:22 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
Have a good night guys:)....zzz...
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685. quakeman55
6:19 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Yeah it did start out when Taz freaked out and said "OMG!!! 96.8 DEGREE SSTS!!!!" but like you said we cannot blame him for what ensued afterwards.
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683. Alec
2:14 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
good point quakeman............wasn't trying to sprawl this out into a big debate.....It's a matter of understanding what I'm saying that got this started........I merely mentioned 90+ SST's and Randrewl automatically thought I was meaning it to be the entire Gulf.....Hope it is cleared up...
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680. quakeman55
6:16 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Well this whole SST debate is pretty silly to me...
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679. louastu
6:14 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
"you sillies"

Didn't you see what I said about name calling? LOL
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677. quakeman55
6:12 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Allright late night food time...maybe by the time I'm done eating (I'm a slow eater) you sillies will have wrapped up this SST debate...

Just keep in mind that whether or not there are 90 degree readings, they are warm enough to fuel major hurricanes and support rapid intensification.
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676. Alec
2:09 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
Posted By: Randrewl at 2:07 AM AST on July 15, 2006.
Alec...I understand. Just please do not get way out there about some 90+F readings unless they are all that way. Then we are all in for a bad ride!

I merely mentioned them Randrewl....I have not gone overboard about them. Just explaining to you that some SST's can in fact be 90+.....
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About JeffMasters

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