Field Notes from a Catastrophe book review

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 12:43 PM GMT on July 14, 2006

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 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

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.

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373. Alec
5:56 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
Hey SJ, I think the Gulf and East Coast waters are going to get warmer as a result of all the hot weather(and more to come this weekend). With waves and disturbances riding over water, the water will mix and therefore, the heat content will be building...
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371. StormJunkie
9:54 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
So Alec, what do you think this heat wave will do to the Gulf and Gulf Stream waters as well as the E coast? I think that slight cooling that we saw helped, but I think we are about to start heading back up.

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370. StormJunkie
9:51 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Come on all that was a good one by GS. Can't we all just get along and learn about the WX :)

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369. Alec
5:51 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
Got heavy rain today here in Tallahassee for like 15 minutes this morning. No lightning. It doesn't even feel like the rainy season since we've been dry for most of the summer...
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366. funhouse23
5:46 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
Hi all just logged on today notice most of the dust is gone.
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365. Alec
5:45 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
So you cant blame me after all flood!LOL

Hope you weren't blogging with lightning(unless you have wireless)....

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363. StormJunkie
9:24 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Posted By: cyclonebuster at 8:31 PM GMT on July 14, 2006.
I was at the Cutler ridge power plant when Andrew hit. Trust me it took ten years to upgade it to a cat.5. I knew that the night it hit. It was much worse than they even report it to be now!!

Very true cyclone. My father was acity admin in the Charleston area for much of his life. After going through Hugo in '89 he went down after Andrew to assist local officials there since he had just dealt with much of the stuff they were going to have to deal with. The pictures and stories that he brought back were unreal. The tent cities were crazy. The neighborhoods of foundations only, as some one already stated, and again the stories of what he saw were truly amazing. I was around 17 when Hugo came through and I thought it could not get too much worse. After Andrew, my thoughts on this changed greatly.

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362. quakeman55
4:32 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
Nice looking flareup north of Panama there. But I'm sure just like all the other blobs that's only temporary.
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361. quakeman55
4:31 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
Yeah Alec, and ST is one of those people.
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360. quakeman55
4:30 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
When is StormTop NOT full of himself?
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359. melwerle
9:28 PM GMT on July 14, 2006

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358. Alec
5:27 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
Hey quakeman, I feel like some people come here SOLEY to compete and boost their egoes....Gets really annoying. That is why me and others dont post here that much.
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356. melwerle
9:26 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Ooooo...StormTop is CERTAINLY full of himself today...WRITTEN IN STONE...wooo hooooo. He is the weatherGOD...maybe we should all genuflect to StormTop...

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355. chefjeff
5:22 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
Outrocket, they wont answer you any more than they do me. 'cause you hurt their EGO.
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354. quakeman55
4:25 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
That's why I can't wait for a storm to form this month, so I can rub it in his face and make him disappear for a while...
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353. quakeman55
4:20 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
At least Cyclonebuster can talk about things other than tunnels, so he can actually converse with people. StormTop, however, can only talk about how right he thinks he is and how wrong everyone else is and that his forecasts are written in stone...he cannot have normal conversation.
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352. hurricanealley
9:21 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
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351. txweather
4:20 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
Just for record
Arlene-first mention 30hrs before TD, said slow developemnt until saying TD developing 6hrs before

Bret-First mention 30hrs before, no development predicted until 18hrs before when they said winds could become more favorable, but land interaction should hinder development.6hrs before they said depression was forming

Cindy - 78hrs, 66hrs ahead said had potential
said TD could forms 24hrs ahead of formation

Dennis 36hrs, said was well organized and developemnt would be slow, said depression could develope 6hrs ahead of formation

Emily -36hrs, said slow development possible, said could be depression 12hrs before formation.

Ok I need to go, but this gives soem info. Basically they mentioned all thses at least 30hrs before development, but clearly did forecast TD developemnt(they just nowcast it)

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349. Lane
9:00 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
yeah...aug and sept is usually when we see the big ones
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348. supercell216
9:00 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
You too Fshhead.
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346. supercell216
8:57 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Well it should remain high enough to supress tropical cyclone genesis for a couple of weeks, but after that we should start to see much more development in the central and eastern Atlantic, and the Caribbean.
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345. Lane
8:51 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
how long is the high wind shear supposed to remain in the Gulf and Carribean?
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344. Fshhead
8:54 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
thanx for the info Buster, Take it easy ALL!!
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342. outrocket
3:49 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
this should not be a COMPETITION...because none of you will ever match the 92% record of the NHC...why does this have to be a put down smack down room for EGO heads?
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341. Fshhead
8:52 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
I gotta go... Randrewl I saw you updated your blog on the warming, I plan on reading tonite or tomm.
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340. supercell216
8:51 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Yep weatherguy03, as long as we can nail the ones that do develop it doesn't matter how many we were out by.
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339. Fshhead
8:50 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
I saw so so many foundations. Wiped clen, could not even tell there was a house there.A friend lived in Naranja, moved right before. Wow, I went by his old place... Yup you guessed it.. Foundation only!!
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338. Tazmanian
1:49 PM PDT on July 14, 2006
tacotoe,burritobuns,huricanechaser,pleeeze now wetdance

can any one tell if they seen any of the id above this post her why is it me? i ban them and they keep comeing back any of you seen them in your blogs
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336. weatherguy03
4:48 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
BTW Stormtop its only July 14th, I wouldnt be wrtiting this season off yet!...LOL But then again, its not who predicts the most or the fewest, its who can forecast where they will go once they do develop. Thats what saves lives.
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335. Fshhead
8:48 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Posted By: cyclonebuster at 8:46 PM GMT on July 14, 2006.

Yes you can compare it to a nuke going off!!
Yea that was the bomb I was referring to LOL
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334. supercell216
8:46 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Yeah Fsshead south of Richmond Heights and the Metrozoo was where things got even worse than imaginable.
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332. weatherguy03
4:47 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
Oh boy, now I get ST talking about me!..Ha Ha!! I am popular today. Anyone else care to take a jab, I am here for another 15 minutes or so..LOL
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330. Fshhead
8:46 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Hmmmm Buster I do not remember them having to rebuild the stacks but, I will take your word since you worked there.
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328. weatherguy03
4:44 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
That would be cool TX., if ya have the time?..LOL I totally agree with everything you said in your post, excellent!
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8:18 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
weatherguy you did it on me you are a hypocrite....plain and lets get down to business...i was right once again and the good old dr masters was wrong about the VIGOROUS wave he was talking about yesterday...what a joke and some people on here without looking at the shear i pointed out that was ahaed of it plus the african dust had it a cat 5 hurricane lol last night...also people the ssp are really high and you will not see any development in july so get used to looking at blobs you to weatherguy..AND THAT MY FRIENDS IS WRITTEN IN STONE...EVERYONE SAID I WAS WRONG THIS YEAR I PREDICTED 14 STORMS AND I SAID THAT WAS A STRETCH LOL...MOST OF YOU INCLUDING WEATHERGUY HAD THE GREEK ALPHABET AGAIN THIS YEAR...PEOPLE THEIR WILL BE STORMS THIS YEAR BUT NOT A CAT 5 AND THE THREAT WILL BE TO THE YUCATAN AND THE MIDDLE TEXAS COAST...SO ALL OF YOU ALONG THE EAST COAST HOPING FOR A STORM YOU MAY SEE THEM BUT THEY WILL BE FISH STORMS...AND LIKE I SAID THIS IS WRITTEN IN STONE FROM StormTop.........
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326. EdMahmoud
8:41 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Well, Joe Bastardi, who I understand is not universally loved here, says that while tropics are quiet now, he sees 1 to 2 developments by the end of July, and with cooler water in eastern Atlantic and warmer water closer to US, they will develop close enough that they may not recurve before hitting land.

I have a funny feeling the former Barbados Blob, now looking quite unhealthy now South of Hispaniola, will start looking good again as it approaches Central America, and has a good shot at being the 'D' or even 'E' storm in the East Pac.

Recall I predicted that for the Belize Blob when it was still near Belize, and its Carlotta now.

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323. Fshhead
8:44 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Man & Andrew was loaded with tornadoes & EXTREME micro-downbursts
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Cat 6 lead authors: WU cofounder Dr. Jeff Masters (right), who flew w/NOAA Hurricane Hunters 1986-1990, & WU meteorologist Bob Henson, @bhensonweather

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