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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 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

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

Reader Comments

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272. supercell216
8:09 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Weatherguy03, good response. And you are an expert, at least that's what I have been told from someone else that posts here.
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271. WSI
8:09 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
"But write offs like were done with TD10/12/nothing = Katrina"

I am quite sick of these being brought up. Look at the percentages. These were outside cases. As opposed to every wave being developed. How many times has the Caribbean been doomed this year? Or the Gulf Coast? Gets a little old.

"o if your an "expert" with a degree in here - you can explain, present information, gently tell us where we are wrong... and then earn our respect."

Ummm yeah. As rocket said, that has been tried many times. Few listen, even more throw insults.

Nothing personal here either, but all of this is a little repetitive, and old. Time for some new material.
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270. stormhank
8:07 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
thanks again for replys! it may just start late and end late one never knows
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269. outrocket
3:08 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
thanks supercell..:)
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268. supercell216
8:07 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Oh sorry outrocket I didn't see that. There was no need for that from GSC.
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267. outrocket
3:05 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
Posted By: GulfScotsman at 2:28 PM CDT on July 14, 2006.
oh.. I was just wondering if they had online archives of say... August 20th - 23drd 2005. ...

Oh crap... there I go looking at 2005 again... dag gum it 'aint 2005

Posted By: weatherguy03 at 8:19 AM CDT on August 24, 2005.
Yes we got it Storm, waters are "sizzling", explosive development, CAT 5, we heard it all already. You getting excited yet..lol...

Thats where....To put one down to make yourself look good is insecurity
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266. weatherguy03
4:03 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
I dont have to earn your respect GulfSc, I have done that with many people on here the last few years. I have never said I was an "expert", but thank you!..LOL And I help out many people on here and tell them when they are right and wrong. But, you are just too stubborn to see that!..LOL
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265. ProgressivePulse
8:01 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
My guess is the last week in July stormhank, things are starting to fall into place, not quite yet though.
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264. supercell216
8:02 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Calm down outrocket, where did he mention weatherguy03?
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263. supercell216
8:00 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
It depends what you mean by "heating up", but we may start seeing more vigorous tropical waves developing in the Eastern Atlantic by the middle of August. Until then, I don't see much in the way of activity. I don't think this season will be above average at all, but it only takes 1 storm to ruin people's lives.
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262. outrocket
2:59 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
Nothing personal. Be back later to check in ... gtg for now.

If nothing personal why did you SINGLE out weatherguy03..

you dont generalize then use a name as you did..

and I will take 03s forecast anyday over yours..

I guess you were not here when explanations were tried in VAIN with ST last year..

maybe you should research before you post
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260. supercell216
7:58 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Well said Scotsman. I do hold a degree in meterology but I'm sure many here are just as capable or much more capable than me at forecasting! I never argue ST's points and forecasts, just the way he presents them and challenges others'.
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259. stormhank
7:51 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
thanks for links! anyone have any guesses on when the tropics may start heating up with activity? Im wondering if season will be as active as the predictions said on june 1st? any comments?
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257. ProgressivePulse
7:54 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Every three hours that is.
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255. ProgressivePulse
7:47 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Sorry bad link
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254. EdMahmoud
7:47 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
It'll be a dry heat, with rel. humidities in the lower 20s.
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252. ProgressivePulse
7:47 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
This view updates every 2 hours instead of every 6 hrs stormhank
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251. supercell216
7:46 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
112.3 degrees F!!!
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250. EdMahmoud
7:07 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Not tropical weather, but GFS MOS for Pierre, SD tomorrow is 44.6

Celcius, not Farenheit!
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249. supercell216
7:44 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Most of it is due to strong upper level trades in the tropics. That creates a gradient between the upper levels and the calm lower levels.
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248. supercell216
7:43 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
I'm 90% sure there won't be a hurricane in the Atlantic basin until at least the middle of August. Wind shear remains high and SST's are much lower than last year.
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247. quakeman55
2:42 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
What exactly is causing the shear anyway? I don't see any big troughs or anything in the Caribbean or anywhere that would be causing it. Some shear is obvious to spot, but some isn't so easy to analyze.
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246. supercell216
7:42 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Stormhank, Meteosat-8, just choose the type of image and/or loop
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244. supercell216
7:40 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
It cannot be ruled out, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a storm-less July.
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243. stormhank
7:39 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
hi everyone, does anyone have a link to view eastern atlantic// west african coast satellite? thanks
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242. quakeman55
2:40 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
And at least one will be a hurricane.
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241. quakeman55
2:38 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
I say it is only a matter of time before something booms, and that time is coming shortly. I say we have at least two storms before we get out of July.
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240. txweather
2:36 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
I see you point scottsman here's one. guess the storm I made it easier and guess when it developed.

1030 PM EDT SUN AUG 21 2005

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239. supercell216
7:34 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
Doubt it quakeman. Wind shear will remain pretty significant until at least the beginning of August. This is just like an average season.
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238. quakeman55
2:30 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
I dunno about all this quietness everyone...it's almost too quiet right now. This quietness could spell danger in the coming days/weeks...
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235. Skyepony (Mod)
7:29 PM GMT on July 14, 2006
The discussions & outlooks were posted on Dr Master's blogs as well. Many with headers so you might even try the WU site search.
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234. weatherguy03
3:29 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
Thanks for quoting me, its an honor. What are you impying? Since you took that out of contex.
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233. txweather
2:29 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
I have those do you want them. just PM me your email or I could post.
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232. txweather
2:28 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
Gulfscottsman, I havwe some Tropical Updates archived, I hope they are the years/time you want.

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226. weatherguy03
3:19 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
Gamma, GulfScot dreams of spinning!
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225. seflagamma
3:17 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
Just got thru catching up... and got some good links from some of you; Fran and Skye also liked looking at your links!

Keep an eye out on that wave leaving the west coast of Fla... you can see some spinning but didn't folks say the shear was just too high for anything to form?

gotta go again, will check back later.
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224. weatherguy03
3:18 PM EDT on July 14, 2006
Yep, we should have big tropical development this weekend..LOL
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223. txweather
2:15 PM CDT on July 14, 2006
gulf I have an archive, but am unsure how far the hurricane centers go. Years ago they had them on hard copy but unasseable but anybody else. how far back to you need.
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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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