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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621. Alec
1:31 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
Actually, Michael could get terrible flooding from a landfalling tropical system......it's not just the close proximity to the coast that is in danger but the floods that can ensue deeper inland......
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619. Tazmanian
10:30 PM PDT on July 14, 2006
Randrewl is an idiot

AND HOW YOU NO THAT HMMMMMMM HAVE YOU EVERE SEEN ONE BE FOR?
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618. Alec
1:29 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
One thing, there are many SMALL pools in the Gulf that are in the 90s.....but very shallow and isolated....Over the past weeks, SST's have been near 84-86 overall in the Gulf.....
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617. ProgressivePulse
5:27 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Aside from the wave of BS, I understand what you mean STL, thank you.
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614. Tazmanian
10:29 PM PDT on July 14, 2006
Randrewl is an idiot
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612. outrocket
12:24 AM CDT on July 15, 2006
Some hurricanes have killed more inland than on the coast,due to flood events and tornado outbreaks...Yes even 100s of miles inland...even as far north as ..hmmm STL:)

seems some could use some book time huh:)))


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611. Alec
1:27 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
Randrewl, you have yet to answer my question......what did Michael say that was so ridiculous on his blog? Because I dont see it...
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610. Tazmanian
10:26 PM PDT on July 14, 2006
Posted By: Randrewl at 10:26 PM PDT on July 14, 2006.
"St. Louis land-locked safe from the brutality of any hurricane ever boy"

there it is again!

GET OUT OF HER YOU ARE RUDE
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609. Tazmanian
10:25 PM PDT on July 14, 2006
Posted By: louastu at 10:25 PM PDT on July 14, 2006.
"St. Louis land-locked safe from the brutality of any hurricane ever boy"

I am not sure, but I think that was a very poor attempt at name calling. Regardless of how skilled a person is at name calling, I feel that it is very childish, and that everyone should refrain from it.


you are so right that was not nic
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605. louastu
5:24 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
"St. Louis land-locked safe from the brutality of any hurricane ever boy"

I am not sure, but I think that was a very poor attempt at name calling. Regardless of how skilled a person is at name calling, I feel that it is very childish, and that everyone should refrain from it.
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603. ProgressivePulse
5:22 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
So convergance is on the increase and divergence is not present above the area and decreasing around the area which yes is bad for formation
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602. Tazmanian
10:22 PM PDT on July 14, 2006
Posted By: Randrewl at 10:21 PM PDT on July 14, 2006.
Taz...I like you...stay out please.


WILL YOU SHUT UP OH BY THE WAY TO NOT EVERE TELL ME TO STAY OUT I POST IN HER WHAT EVERE I WANT TO YOUR NOT MY BOSS
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601. Alec
1:22 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
Posted By: Randrewl at 1:13 AM AST on July 15, 2006.
While it would be impossible for me to ever agree with Michael even about the current time of night......I refuse to debate any part of his most ridiculous statements on this blog. He ain't worth the effort!


Randrewl, he is one SMART guy......what did he say that was ridiculous? Because I didnt see anything ridiculous at all..
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600. sporteguy03
5:13 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Enjoy Mid-Summer weather everyone...The tropics will heat up soon enough, its only July, how can some already write off the season... we don't normally get July storms anyway. Writing off the season is like saying were in Spring Training in Baseball and a team just gives up before the games really mean anything. Its not August or September or yet October if its slow after those months then by all means say the season was slow...I just hope we don't get an Andrew type storm that devastates one area and we have to retire another name. Even if we get one and hits its a bad season, just ask S.FLA in 1992.
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599. Tazmanian
10:21 PM PDT on July 14, 2006
Posted By: Randrewl at 10:20 PM PDT on July 14, 2006.
Maybe if we are all fortunate Michael will enlighten us to the fact that he has buoy readings in the GOM that report 96F! Isn't that right St. Louis land-locked safe from the brutality of any hurricane ever boy?


OH WILL YOU STOP IT
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596. ProgressivePulse
5:14 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Solid line means increase, Dotted line means decrease right STL?
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594. hurricaneman23
5:18 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
what area r u talkin about?
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593. Tazmanian
10:17 PM PDT on July 14, 2006
Randrewl stop being rude to MichaelSTL he tihs trying to help
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592. hurricaneman23
5:15 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
now if this thing develops where is it headed? and is there a prayer it will develop
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588. ProgressivePulse
5:07 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Convergence marks the low, lemme check the Upper Divergence.
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579. ProgressivePulse
4:59 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Lower level Convergence east of the Bahamas
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573. turtlehurricane
4:38 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Thanks Randrewl, I'm glad you liked it :)
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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.