Most of the land in the Arctic, and nearly a quarter of all the land in the Northern Hemisphere-some five and a half billion acres-is underlaid by zones of permafrost. A few months after I visited Shishmaref, I went back to Alaska to take a trip through the interior of the state with Vladimir Romanovsky, a geophysicist and permafrost expert. I flew into Fairbanks-Romanovsky teaches at the University of Alaska, which has its main campus there-and when I arrived, the whole city was enveloped in a dense haze that looked like fog but smelled like burning rubber.
People kept telling me that I was lucky I hadn't come a couple of weeks earlier, when it had been much worse. I must have smiled. Fairbanks, Alaska's second-largest city, is surrounded on all sides by forest, and virtually every summer lightning sets off fires in these forests, which fill the air with smoke for a few days or, in bad years, weeks. In the summer of , the fires started early, in June, and were still burning two and a half months later; by the time of my visit, in late August, a record 6.
The severity of the fires was clearly linked to the weather, which had been exceptionally hot and dry; the average summertime temperature in Fairbanks was the highest on record, and the amount of rainfall was the third lowest. On my second day in Fairbanks, Romanovsky picked me up at my hotel for an underground tour of the city. Like most permafrost experts, he is from Russia. The Soviets more or less invented the study of permafrost when they decided to build their gulags in Siberia. A broad man with shaggy brown hair and a square jaw, Romanovsky as a student had had to choose between playing professional hockey and becoming a geophysicist.
He had opted for the latter, he told me, because "I was little bit better scientist than hockey player. Romanovsky came to get me at ten A. Any piece of ground that has remained frozen for at least two years is, by definition, permafrost. In some places, like eastern Siberia, permafrost runs nearly a mile deep; in Alaska, it varies from a couple of hundred feet to a couple of thousand feet deep.
Fairbanks, which is just below the Arctic Circle, is situated in a region of discontinuous permafrost, meaning that the city is pocked with regions of frozen ground. One of the first stops on Romanovsky's tour was a hole that had opened up in a patch of permafrost not far from his house. It was about six feet wide and five feet deep. Nearby were the outlines of other, even bigger holes, which, Romanovsky told me, had been filled with gravel by the local public-works department.
The holes, known as thermokarsts, had appeared suddenly when the permafrost gave way, like a rotting floorboard.
The technical term for thawed permafrost is "talik," from a Russian word meaning "not frozen. The trench, he explained, had been formed when a wedge of underground ice had melted. The spruce trees that had been growing next to it, or perhaps on top of it, were now listing at odd angles, as if in a gale.
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Locally, such trees are called "drunken. In Alaska, the ground is riddled with ice wedges that were created during the last glaciation, when the cold earth cracked and the cracks filled with water. The wedges, which can be dozens or even hundreds of feet deep, tended to form in networks, so when they melt, they leave behind connecting diamond- or hexagon-shaped depressions. 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.
Around the corner, Romanovsky pointed out a house-no longer occupied-that basically had split in two; the main part was leaning to the right and the garage toward the left. The house had been built in the sixties or early seventies; it had survived until almost a decade ago, when the permafrost under it started to degrade.
Romanovsky's mother-in-law used to own two houses on the same block. He had urged her to sell them both. He pointed out one, now under new ownership; its roof had developed an ominous-looking ripple. When Romanovsky went to buy his own house, he looked only in permafrost-free areas. In places where the permafrost has been disturbed, by roads or houses or lawns, much of it is already thawing. Prairie Fires. Caroline Fraser. Lab Girl. Hope Jahren. Robert M Sapolsky. The Disappeared. Amy Lord.
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Charlie Jane Anders. Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs. Lisa Randall. Chasing the Scream. Johann Hari. The Long List Anthology Volume 4. David Steffen. Field Notes from a Catastrophe. Elizabeth Kolbert. The Sixth Extinction. How to write a great review. The review must be at least 50 characters long. The title should be at least 4 characters long.
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Skip this list. View 1 comment. Mar 18, Dorothy rated it liked it Shelves: nature , science. Entrenched, very powerful economic interests control our political system and, to a great extent, our media, and those interests are determined that business as usual shall prevail in the production and distribution of energy.
In other words, petrochemical companies should be allowed to operate unchecked and unregulated. That this is a recipe for worldwide catastrophe is made quite clear in this slim book by science writer Elizabeth Kolbert. Kolbert organizes her narrative as a series of travelogues to various parts of the world where the effects of global warming are made most evident. And so we visit the Alaskan interior, Iceland, and the Greenland ice sheet, as well as the mountains and meadows of Britain and Europe and the jungles of Costa Rica.
We also get to meet the researchers in all these places who are working hard to understand the effects of a warming climate. Kolbert also takes us back to the beginning of the study of climate and climate change in the 19th century where we meet Irish physicist John Tyndall who studied the absorptive properties of various gases and came up with the first accurate account of how the atmosphere functions. We also meet Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius, who picked up where Tyndall left off and who later would win the Nobel Prize for his work on electrolytic dissociation.
Arrhenius became curious about the effects of carbon dioxide on global temperatures. He was apparently interested in whether falling levels of carbon dioxide might have caused the ice ages. He calculated how the earth's temperature would be affected by changing carbon dioxide levels. He was able to declare that rising levels of carbon dioxide would allow future generations "to live under a warmer sky. This is all fascinating stuff for those of us who are interested in this issue, an audience which should include the entire human race. The information is presented in a comprehensive and succinct manner and in highly readable form.
Kolbert has a knack for making complicated topics understandable. The book was first published in in the middle of the George W. Dobriansky attempts to explain and defend the adminstration's policy on climate change. What she actually does is repeat the same talking point over and over again. Indeed, the history of the United States' handling of the problem of global warming has been mostly downhill since President George H.
Bush acknowledged the problem and signed the U. It has mostly been a history of denial of basic science and a refusal to act or to lead, as perhaps best exemplified by climate change denialist Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma. In an afterword written in January , Kolbert makes clear that business as usual continues and without U. It seems unlikely that that will happen in the foreseeable future. The warnings of scientists like James Hansen continue to go unheeded and Earth continues to heat up.
I finished this book feeling very depressed about the future prospects for survival of the human race. View all 4 comments. Sep 09, Alicia rated it really liked it. Field Notes From A Catastrophe is an interesting book that calmly lays out the evidence to support the fact that the earth is now the warmest it has been in the past , years. She then goes on to talk about differing scientists viewpoints of what this might mean. At the core, all of the important scientists in the field agree that the warming means that the planet is on the edge of a major climate change.
The main point of contention seems to be the time frame in which that will happen and Field Notes From A Catastrophe is an interesting book that calmly lays out the evidence to support the fact that the earth is now the warmest it has been in the past , years. The main point of contention seems to be the time frame in which that will happen and how much longer we have before that outcome is irreversible. Very nicely done without the alarmist tone that many writers on the subject develop probably because the potential outcomes are alarming.
Shelves: natural-history-environment. The only thing more hope-killing than reading Elizabeth Kolbert on climate change see also The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History is reading one of her books several years after publication, knowing no progress has been made. What she writes is impossible to deny. This book was published before The Sixth Extinction, then re-issued in with a few updates that only confirm the bad tidings.
Trying to sum up the book here I went back to what I said about Sixth Extinction. Though this bo The only thing more hope-killing than reading Elizabeth Kolbert on climate change see also The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History is reading one of her books several years after publication, knowing no progress has been made. Though this book precedes it, the pair summed leave me in 20o18 in despair.
Nov 06, Mark Stevens rated it it was amazing. Very worried. Kolbert zooms in and zooms out, from details to big-picture analysis. She visits the Alaskan village of Shismaref five miles off the coast of the Seward Peninsula. She heads to Swiss Camp, a research station on a platform drilled into the Greenland ice sheet. And, among other locations, she takes a look at the Monteverde Cloud Forest in north-central Costa Rica.
Everywhere she goes are clear-eyed scientists doing their thing—observing, monitoring, measuring. And watching the world change under the pressures of global warming. Everywhere Kolbert stops, the signs of change are abundant, unequivocal, unambiguous—all without being sensational. We are sloppy drunk on fossil fuels and show no interest in sobering up. Bitterness is buried in the brutal facts. The cautionary mention in Field Notes about increasing hurricane strength—the book was finishing up around the time of Hurricane Katrina—comes across as tame and quaint in the wake of Harvey, Irma and Maria during Recently Nov.
What will provoke our leaders to put some urgency behind the many steps that could be implemented to entice a new pattern of behavior and energy use? And might be too late, given the momentum that climate change has gained. The "wedges" are things like solar power, wind power, nuclear power, cutting energy use in residential and commercial buildings by a quarter, or slashing automobile use in half and simultaneously doubling fuel efficiency.
Will we heat the atmosphere to the point where there are crocodiles at the poles, as there were in the Cretaceous? Maybe, if we can make "Field Notes" required reading in every high school today, we could begin to turn the trend around. Political pressure will be key to the pace at which we try to change our approach. Right now, as Kolbert concludes, we are destroying ourselves. And doing precious little about it. Mar 17, Timbre Wolf rated it it was amazing.
Really a well thought out book. Bear in mind, this book is now 13 years old. But the author does great reporting of talking to scientists of different fields, to communities already feeling and bracing for impact, the political and global aspects and throws in some good visuals. Really enjoyed this book! May 19, Isaac Baker rated it it was amazing Shelves: nonfiction. This is a really good primer on climate change, the perfect gift for your conservative uncle who thinks climate change is a liberal conspiracy. Published in , I was struck over and over again by how little we have done to address climate change since this book came out.
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James Inhoffe, for example, is feat This is a really good primer on climate change, the perfect gift for your conservative uncle who thinks climate change is a liberal conspiracy. Kolbert takes a broad view of climate change, tackling it from a variety of perspectives through a field notes approach. After the third or fourth instance, it started to get really old and formulaic, but luckily skippable. Other than that, this book is phenomenal.
I just wish it were fiction and not reality. To cite a well worn phrase, this is a must read to gain an insight and understanding of climate change The updated and revised edition From the Women's National Book Association's press release: In Field Notes from a Catastrophe , Elizabeth Kolbert documents her travels around the world to sites already affected by man-made climate change, including Alaska, the Arctic, Greenland, and the Netherlands.
Kolbert not only witnesses rising sea levels, altered patterns of migration, thawing permafrost, and thinning ice shelves, she also talks to scientists about what we can expect as these changes accelerate. This time her message is even more urgent, as she documents further changes and wonders if the catastrophic effects of climate change can still be stopped or at least mitigated.
It is a sobering examination of the most important challenge the human race faces. Nov 26, Sarah Boon rated it really liked it. Interesting to read this book from now, in Kolbert's book was one of the first to start to bring together the various threads of climate change happening around the globe.
It's a well-reported and accessible book. But it's disappointing, when you compare what things were like in with now - there hasn't been much progress despite much political posturing.
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Dec 29, Stacy Lewis rated it really liked it. Having finished it, I think I should send it to the president. But there are very few pictures and lots of big words. Oct 20, Lisa rated it it was amazing. Elizabeth Kolbert wrote this book 12 years ago, and what is disappointing is the knowledge increasingly available while we still have done little about climate change. Her travels for this book included: Greenland; Alaska; Burlington, Vermont, and other climate change points of interest. Reading this book set in that period reminds us again where politicians have let us down.
For those seeking knowledge on climate change, it is an interesting book. Aug 07, Numidica rated it it was amazing. The content is not uplifting, but this message needs to be heard. Feb 07, Jennifer Henschel rated it it was amazing. Seriously scary stuff. Apr 09, Jake rated it it was amazing. Field Notes from a Catastrophe, by Elizabeth Kolbert, studies the evidence for global warming and the consequences of global warming.
She argues that global warming exists by looking at current and past research taking place all over the world in many different branches of science. She lays out the consequences of global warming in two groups. The first half of the book is directed toward what is happening to nature as a result of global warming and the second half describes what humans are doin Field Notes from a Catastrophe, by Elizabeth Kolbert, studies the evidence for global warming and the consequences of global warming.
‘Field Notes From a Catastrophe’
The first half of the book is directed toward what is happening to nature as a result of global warming and the second half describes what humans are doing in response to global warming. She uses mostly anecdotal and qualitative evidence from glaciology, climatology, biology, and alludes to a few other areas of research, to show what effect global warming is having on the earth.
These effects include: changes of habitat i. In this section, she also makes a convincing argument that excess greenhouse gasses from humans gases such as CO2 are causing global warming. First, Kolbert explains that the climate has strongly affected human civilizations in the past, even causing some civilizations to end. Then, she examines how it may affect our present civilizations. For example, she explains that if the oceans rise, a lot of land that people now live on will be under water causing millions of refugees. This could cause food and water distribution problems and possibly spark armed conflict.
The moral of the story: global warming will cause dire consequences in every aspect of human life. After explaining the possible impact on the environment that global warming could have, she examines some of the current movements and political actions that are being made to try and slow down global warming or, at least, to minimize the human impact on global warming. There has been mixed success in these solutions. There is technology that could reduce CO2 which, while available, is not practical. Governmental intervention would probably be most effective in reducing CO2, but some countries, like the United States and China, are unwilling to put limits on carbon emissions because of the possible impacts it could have on the economy.
Finally, there has been some progress on the state or city level of government, but this is a small victory when countries like China and the federal U. On the whole, I thought Field Notes from a Catastrophe was a well argued case to the general public showing that the extreme global warming we have observed is a result of human actions and it will end in serious consequences. I was quite impressed by the wide variety of evidence that Kolbert draws from; it is very rare that so many different branches of science from physics to glaciology are able to comment on one very specific subject--let alone agree on that subject.