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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573. turtlehurricane
4:38 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Thanks Randrewl, I'm glad you liked it :)
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572. melwerle
4:34 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
ok - gotta say i now log in for the outburst on ST's crap - not even for the weather. He is an idiot and I don't even CARE what his predictions are anymore. I can't forecast myself out of a paper BAG and (think) i live in a place that could be hit seriously sometime at some point (forgive me ST, I may be wrong - Savannah here) but I don't take this guy even remotely seriously at any time any more since he comes off like such a know-it-all. Sorry ST = even if you know what you're talking about - if you come off like a jerk, no one is going to listen...

LOVE YOU MAN
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568. turtlehurricane
4:22 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Yes, i definitely think global warming or warming of the Earth in general is a real and pertinent issue.
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565. StellarCyclone
3:56 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Goodnight all - lots of informative and funny posts (StormTop would be completely hilarious if he was just a persona - unfornately I guess he is just a really sad character - he used to make me mad but now despite concern for him I just smile)
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564. turtlehurricane
4:12 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
There is a section about permafrost melt in my global warming analysis
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562. thelmores
3:47 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
"Posted By: GulfScotsman -
I do believe that ST has saved me from being the chief ASsss in the blog today."

15 minutes left in the day......

ST by a nose!
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559. Inyo
3:28 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Aha, Carlotta is still kicking!

Randrewl, i dont know if you are just trolling but volcanos usually cool the climate, not warm it.
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558. Andrew92
11:27 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
:(
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555. ProgressivePulse
3:23 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
So how about them Cubs
Member Since: August 19, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 5578
552. ProgressivePulse
3:15 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
I haven't been to my Rotations Anonymous class for months now.
Member Since: August 19, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 5578
551. weatherguy03
11:14 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
Its so exciting tonite that they have volcanos replacing hurricanes..Link..LOL
Member Since: July 5, 2005 Posts: 592 Comments: 29708
550. ProgressivePulse
3:10 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Nothing but you know daym well I'm gonna look at it lol.
Member Since: August 19, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 5578
547. ProgressivePulse
3:08 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
That is why I brought it up lol. It is the only rotation for hundreds of miles so hey!
Member Since: August 19, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 5578
546. Skyepony (Mod)
3:02 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
The turtle expert had never heard of the myth. But he was taken back as not just this turtle but all the turtles were laying way lower this year than the last few years.

The Sea Turtles have spoken. You people that still have boards on your windows around here from 2 years ago, yes you avoided boarding for Wilma, but you can take them all down now. LOL
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 292 Comments: 41012
544. ProgressivePulse
3:03 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
It's nothing Randrewl, just rotation I didn't see earlier. Shear as you see is rather hostile, may enhance rainfall a bit Sunday Monday.
Member Since: August 19, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 5578
540. ProgressivePulse
2:51 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Just know that more could have been done if it was taken seriously!
Member Since: August 19, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 5578
538. Skyepony (Mod)
2:51 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
From the link that FlCrackerGirl posted to the live sea turtles lying on the beach show. If the old myth that goes ~ when the sea turles lay low on the beach, expect no big hits during the hurricane season, is true. Then, the turtles have spoken, Brevard County is in the no big storm zone this year & it will be nothing like 2004.

Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 292 Comments: 41012
536. stormhank
2:48 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
this season maybe named "The Late and Great Hurricane Season of 2006 " lol
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1387
535. owlhootflorida
2:45 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Good night to all, and to all a good night! We'll be needing them...
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533. ProgressivePulse
2:43 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
I was watching that statement Randrewl, I will bite my upper lip now.
Member Since: August 19, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 5578
532. ProgressivePulse
2:42 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
NHC has floater 2 on the area, FUN! lol
Member Since: August 19, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 5578
530. ProgressivePulse
2:39 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
I dunno 03, I'll keep an eye on the Bahamas for ya and let ya know, how about that?
Member Since: August 19, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 5578
529. Tazmanian
7:40 PM PDT on July 14, 2006
Hurricane Carlotta Discussion Number 13

Statement as of 8:00 PM PDT on July 14, 2006



somewhat unexpectedly...Carlotta has made a comeback this evening.
Deep convection has increased in both coverage and intensity near
the center...and a cloud-filled eye has developed. Satellite
intensity estimates have increased to 77 kt from TAFB...and are 65
kt from SAB and AFWA. Based on this...Carlotta is upgraded to a
70-kt hurricane. The cyclone has fair to good cirrus outflow in
all directions except the northeast where it is poor.
The initial motion is 285/9. Carlotta remains on the south side of
a mid/upper-level ridge over northwestern Mexico...the southwestern
United States...and the adjacent Pacific waters. The storm is also
approaching the normal strong low-level ridge over the northeastern
Pacific. The large-scale models forecast the upper-level ridge to
stay present north of Carlotta for the next several days...although
there are some differences in the strength caused by the handling
of an upper-level low currently over eastern Mexico. The
upper-level ridge should turn Carlotta westward over the next day
or two...with the low-level ridge continuing the westward motion as
Carlotta weakens over cooler water. However...the track guidance
is not in good agreement on this scenario. After about 48 hr...the
NOGAPS calls for a west-northwestward motion...the GFDL calls for a
southward motion...the UKMET a slower west-northwestward motion...
and the BAMS a faster west-southwestward motion. The new forecast
track compromises between these extremes with a westward motion of
6-8 kt through the forecast period. The track is essentially an
update of the previous track.
Carlotta should reach the 26c sea surface temperature isotherm in a
few hours and then move over progressively cooler water. The
vertical wind shear is forecast to remain light...so the intensity
forecast calls for a gradual weakening through the forecast period.
Sea surface temperature analyses from NCEP in Washington DC show a
cold water eddy ahead of Carlotta...and if the storm passes over
this features it could weaken faster than currently forecast.

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526. stormhank
2:31 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
thanks progressive,, I live in Fla panhandle and I can talk for everyone I guess in sayin we sure could use a break from gulf storms but, we r very dry. so a minor depression would be welcome to bring beneficial rains.
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1387
525. ProgressivePulse
2:30 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Moreso everyday stormhank, personal opinion of course.
Member Since: August 19, 2005 Posts: 5 Comments: 5578
523. stormhank
2:27 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
thanks micheal for sst info. the forecasts that more storms will affect the east coast rather than the gulf this year... does anyone feel that will happen?
Member Since: September 8, 2005 Posts: 0 Comments: 1387

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Dr. Masters co-founded wunderground in 1995. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990. Co-blogging with him: Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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