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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673. Randrewl
2:06 AM AST on July 15, 2006
MichaelSTL...Whatever you say.
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31581
672. Alec
2:04 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
Posted By: Randrewl at 2:01 AM AST on July 15, 2006.
I read all the graphs. Basic temps in the GOM are 84F. That's it right now. It can and probably will get higher but a few readings of 91F don't make it so!


Randrewl.........you are missing the point...I NEVER implied that some 90 readings meant the whole Gulf was like that(of course the average is the mean between the highest and lowest temps).....I basically told you the charts I have read for a few months now.....
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670. Randrewl
2:04 AM AST on July 15, 2006
Probabably by the time we end this debate all the SST's across the Earth will be 98F!
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31581
669. Alec
2:01 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
Buoy temps fluctuate like a sine wave....they are the highest in the late afternoon and lowest just before sunrise....but they dont flucuate like 15 degrees in one cycle though...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
668. Randrewl
2:01 AM AST on July 15, 2006
I read all the graphs. Basic temps in the GOM are 84F. That's it right now. It can and probably will get higher but a few readings of 91F don't make it so!
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31581
667. quakeman55
6:00 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Peak gust was 95 mph at La Palma, with a 90 mph gust at Tenerife.
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665. Alec
1:58 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
And I have seen plenty of buoy readings nearing upper 80s and 90+ temps for over a month now..........the chances that 50 of those readings are busted doesnt seem likely or logical to me.....
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664. quakeman55
5:59 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Haha, right after Randrewl's post right there...yeah, Delta was DEFINITELY a perfect example of that.
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663. quakeman55
5:55 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
An extratropical version of Tropical Storm Delta raked the Canary Islands last year and destroyed the monument El Dedo de Dios, which had stood for over a thousand years. I wonder what the people thought when it came through, since they had never seen anything like it in their entire lifetimes!
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662. Randrewl
1:56 AM AST on July 15, 2006
Hurricane force gusts in areas not prone to receive them? You bet you'll have damage.
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31581
661. Alec
1:53 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
Well, how would you be so sure of that Randrewl? You just got done saying the 90+ buoys were all screwed up some how....How are your so sure they aren't screwed up with their 84 degree water temps for example? It is very possible to have very thin layers of 90+ water temps sporadically throughout the Gulf coastal sections for example...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
660. Randrewl
1:54 AM AST on July 15, 2006
JFLORIDA...Great question. I only know that canes are fed constantly by the heat of the surface they are over and that transfers up the chimney effect.
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31581
658. cajunkid
12:37 AM CDT on July 15, 2006


Flashback...This is an email I received from one of my old professors after Katrina. I was digging around and stumbled across it. Chilling still!



Sent by: heydrjay@lsu.edu

Please respond to heydrjay@lsu.edu



To: BIOL 1002 - 002, BIOL 1201 - 002, BIOL 1201 - 003
cc:

Subject: St. Bernard Parish needs help



Folks,
Requests are coming in to publicize the plight of people in St.
Bernard
Parish (there was a levee breach in Chalmette). Please see the
image in
the following email.

Dr. Jay,

Please pass this email along to all of your students. We are
trying to save
people in my home parish and we are trying to get attention for
our
residents still stranded. Thank you!

Residents of St. Bernard Parish who have evacuated to Baton Rouge
are
trying to organize a grass roots effort to save the nearly 1500
people
still stranded in St. Bernard Parish. Federal Agencies have
abandoned us
and our residents in all evacuation efforts to focus on the
effort in New
Orleans. These people are without water, food and medical help
and they are
in dire need of rescue. We have reports that people are dying and
the
situation is getting really serious. WE are trying to get the
media to
focus its attention on our parish because the media has abandoned
its focus
on smaller parishes which are just as in need as the people of
New Orleans.
Please please please help us garner the attention that we need to
get any
kind of assistance. Thank you and please pray for us.

We're just trying to get some attention for our parish. It was
one of the
hardest hit by Katrina and there is no Federal Assistance being
sent there.
We were just able to get in touch with our sheriff and he said
the
situation is terrible. There are 2000 refugees there and people
are dying.
If people want to help, tell them to contact all media outlets
and pass my
email along. I'm posting a link of a picture of our parish that
you can
send along to show them.

http://www.st-bernard.la.us/emprep/katrina/chalmettephoto-med.bmp


Erin Englert
St. Bernard Parish Resident
eengle3@lsu.edu



Sent by: heydrjay@lsu.edu
Please respond to heydrjay@lsu.edu

To: BIOL 1002 - 002, BIOL 1201 - 002, BIOL 1201 - 003
cc:
Subject: St. Bernard Parish needs help

Folks,
Requests are coming in to publicize the plight of people in St.
Bernard
Parish (there was a levee breach in Chalmette). Please see the
image in
the following email.
Dr. Jay,
Please pass this email along to all of your students. We are
trying to save
people in my home parish and we are trying to get attention for
our
residents still stranded. Thank you!
Residents of St. Bernard Parish who have evacuated to Baton Rouge
are
trying to organize a grass roots effort to save the nearly 1500
people
still stranded in St. Bernard Parish. Federal Agencies have
abandoned us
and our residents in all evacuation efforts to focus on the
effort in New
Orleans. These people are without water, food and medical help
and they are
in dire need of rescue. We have reports that people are dying and
the
situation is getting really serious. WE are trying to get the
media to
focus its attention on our parish because the media has abandoned
its focus
on smaller parishes which are just as in need as the people of
New Orleans.
Please please please help us garner the attention that we need to
get any
kind of assistance. Thank you and please pray for us.
We're just trying to get some attention for our parish. It was
one of the
hardest hit by Katrina and there is no Federal Assistance being
sent there.
We were just able to get in touch with our sheriff and he said
the
situation is terrible. There are 2000 refugees there and people
are dying.
If people want to help, tell them to contact all media outlets
and pass my
email along. I'm posting a link of a picture of our parish that
you can
send along to show them.
http://www.st-bernard.la.us/emprep/katrina/chalmettephoto-med.bmp

Erin Englert
St. Bernard Parish Resident
eengle3@lsu.edu
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
656. Randrewl
1:52 AM AST on July 15, 2006
This is all good. See ...a little heated debate and all you guys are in the game! Go man!
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31581
655. Randrewl
1:49 AM AST on July 15, 2006
In case anyone forgot....Warm water is the fuel for the hurricane chimney. So warm water is one important factor in storm development. My point is that there is not and has not been so far this season any verifiable water temps in the GOM that are anywhere close to 96F!
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31581
654. Alec
1:49 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
Oh yeah......the sun DOES NOT heat the air up directly(because ultraviolet radiation is extremely tiny, it just passes right through)......It directly heats the land or water which in turn heats the air above it........That is why there can be big temperature reading differences between the water and air at times...
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653. louastu
5:50 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
The first intentional flight into a hurricane was in 1943.

Link
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
652. hurricaneman23
5:47 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
IS THERE ANY POSSIBLE FORMATION FOR THE WAVE CROSSING THE PACIFIC INTO THE ATLANTIC?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
651. Alec
1:46 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
Satellite infared sensors only detect the water temp in a shallow layer......Buoy's do give us a good clue.....I have seen pretty stable buoy readings for some time now....
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
650. quakeman55
5:48 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Wait a minute. There were hurricane hunter planes back in 1954?
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
647. Randrewl
1:48 AM AST on July 15, 2006
louastu...LOL!
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31581
646. outrocket
12:46 AM CDT on July 15, 2006
someone was absent during remote senseing classes.......
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
645. quakeman55
5:43 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Wikipedia: Hurricane Hazel

The only way it was able to keep its strong winds for so far over land was because of its extratropical transition shortly after landfall. Interesting...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
644. louastu
5:45 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Thanks Michael. You have a knack for making me feel useless. LOL
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
643. outrocket
12:44 AM CDT on July 15, 2006
look how far inland hugo maintained...thats a classic..Hickory NC will never forget...
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642. Randrewl
1:44 AM AST on July 15, 2006
Alec..Extremely correct! So then you could understand that satellite infrared readings only represent a few inches of the whole can't you?
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31581
641. louastu
5:43 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Here is the link for Hazel.
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
640. snowboy
5:40 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Just checking in folks. For what it's worth, there is no sign of anything that could cause any problems for many days. If we're down to bickering and name-calling, maybe just call it a night because there sure is no tropical weather-related reason to be on here. Ciao..
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
638. Alec
1:41 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
There can be cases where SST's are much warmer than the air above it, since water is a TERRIFIC heat capacitor for the sun's energy........
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
637. louastu
5:41 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Posted By: quakeman55 at 5:40 AM GMT on July 15, 2006.
600 miles? That seems pretty improbable to me, unless it was moving at like 60 mph or somethin...

It was a cat 4 at landfall, and was moving at about 30 mph.
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636. Tazmanian
10:41 PM PDT on July 14, 2006
ok all play nic night all
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
634. outrocket
12:38 AM CDT on July 15, 2006
Posted By: Randrewl at 12:37 AM CDT on July 15, 2006.
MichaelSTL...Your map is satellite infrared readings....only good for a few inches. It is not accurate and not even scientific!


its OK your taxes paid for it.....but I tend to think its scientific ...
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633. quakeman55
5:40 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
...and coming ashore as a Cat 5, which it wasn't...

Anyone got a link on it?
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632. Alec
1:38 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
I've read the buoys for over 3 months now Randrewl.....I know they only represent a small fraction of the ocean...
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631. quakeman55
5:38 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
600 miles? That seems pretty improbable to me, unless it was moving at like 60 mph or somethin...
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630. louastu
5:38 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
I would like to point out that Hazel was still a hurricane over 600 miles inland.
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629. Randrewl
1:37 AM AST on July 15, 2006
Check the buoys yourself...don't take my word for it.
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31581
628. Alec
1:36 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
Posted By: Randrewl at 1:34 AM AST on July 15, 2006.
Small pools of 90+ in the Gulf do not mean anything. You believe a storm or Hurricane as broad as 200 miles cares about your small pool? LOL!


I merely mentioned it Randrewl....never said a hurricane cared about a small pool....what's your point?
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627. Randrewl
1:36 AM AST on July 15, 2006
MichaelSTL...Your map is satellite infrared readings....only good for a few inches. It is not accurate and not even scientific!
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31581
626. quakeman55
5:35 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Alberto 1994 caused some serious flooding in central Georgia...
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625. Alec
1:34 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
So Randrewl, you say how inaccurate the satellite readings make the SST's appear....If the buoy readings are all screwed up like you say, then how are you so sure the are averaging 84 degrees?.....just curious...
Member Since: Posts: Comments:
624. Randrewl
1:34 AM AST on July 15, 2006
Small pools of 90+ in the Gulf do not mean anything. You believe a storm or Hurricane as broad as 200 miles cares about your small pool? LOL!
Member Since: June 8, 2006 Posts: 114 Comments: 31581

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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.