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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773. chefjeff
4:55 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
When Jeb talks , he tells it straight and honest, not like we are a bunch of morons. Can't say that about his brother or anyone else in D.C. for that matter.
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772. Fshhead
9:00 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
I have no problem with the G.O.P. but, this guy geeeeez. I thought Reagan pretty good & also thought Tricky Dicky pretty good(he just got caught)
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770. Fshhead
9:00 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
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768. Fshhead
8:58 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
can i ask you real personal ????

Did you vote for him????
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766. Fshhead
8:55 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
LOL I shudder to think of me voting for:
A. A republican
B. a Bush
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763. Fshhead
8:52 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Chef, like I was telling Randrewl,he has done a good job as Gov.
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762. chefjeff
4:43 AM EDT on July 15, 2006
Jeb is smarter than you think. Because his wife is Colombian, is why he said he would not run for Prez. The press would have a good time with that. People are scared of someone with common sense.
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760. Fshhead
8:49 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
It seems to me that everything this country is founded on is being broken almost weekly.
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759. Fshhead
8:46 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
I am sure you will agree that these are scary times for us as a nation.
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756. Fshhead
8:44 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Yea, don't know if I buy fully into the conspiracy theorys BUT, I will say this. There are alot of question marks on that day for sure. Very weird goings on
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754. Fshhead
8:42 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Hmmm did not know about this either
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752. Fshhead
8:36 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Hmmmm did not know that abou Jeb. good point for sure.
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749. Fshhead
8:22 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
So.... when you think we are going to start the hurricane drills???? I think late August
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748. Fshhead
8:21 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
LMAO!!!! When I tell my brother this he really really gets mad.(bush name makes his blood curdle more than mine)
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747. Fshhead
8:17 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Hmmmm well as much as the bush name makes my blood curdle LOL Jeb has done pretty good job as Gov. & he tends to buck the family a bit. He had real good article in the Miami Herald about going to ethanol With alot of latin & carribean countries. I kinda like his thinkin'
One things for sure when they messed up here with the storms he took FULL blame. He said we were terrible & we need to fix this...
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745. Fshhead
8:15 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Yea & I will say this, the one thing that bothers me a bit is Israel would not have all this firepower if itwere not for us...
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743. Fshhead
8:13 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Hey Randrewl Let me ask you this(political).
What do you think of our governor as a presidential candidate???
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741. Fshhead
8:10 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
I've been saying for the last couple of days that why couldn't the U.S. & Britain put the Jewish people in like ahhhhh lets say Australia or Iceland. Of all freakin' places to put them. LOL
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740. Fshhead
8:08 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
yea got ya there. Tellin ya I don't think many people realize the severity of this situation. This is not just the palestanians they are messing with. Like I said so many variables.
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738. Fshhead
8:06 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
One thing is for sure, Israel does not f*** around.
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737. Fshhead
8:03 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
thats one of the many variables here. Iran can get into this very easily. The Israeli's are trigger happy right now. When I heard that Israel thinks alot of the rocket attacks were Iran shooting them I thought here we go!!!!!
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735. Fshhead
8:03 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
yea this site really actin' weird for sure.
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733. Fshhead
8:01 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
Wooooof, we are going to be paying at the pump for this also. More reason to switch to alt. energy!!!!!
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732. Fshhead
7:59 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
They go overboard & it can be WW 3. Very easily.
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731. Fshhead
7:58 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
oops adressing the situation & not the aggression. Mmmmmm well, they do have the right to defend BUT, BUT, they better tread carfully.
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730. Fshhead
7:55 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
hmmmmm tell you what that is a tough one. SO many variables at play here. Don't think for a second N. Korea is not closely watchin' all this.Tell this much I got a co-worker thats born again Christian, mmmm not pretty scenario according to bible "prophecy"
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728. Fshhead
7:51 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
told ya I will check it out for sure..
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726. Fshhead
7:49 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
yup words top live by!!!!
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723. Fshhead
7:45 AM GMT on July 15, 2006
I will read it though, as I have said all along I want to hear both sides..
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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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