A new, 13th edition of the Times Atlas of the World was released last week and immediately sparked a controversy over its incorrect map of Greenland. The atlas that dubs itself the world’s “most authoritative” had make a huge mistake, claiming that 15 percent of Greenland’s permanent ice cover — an area the size of the UK and Ireland — had melted since 1999, when the last edition of the atlas was published. A widely distributed September 15th news release added to the confusion.
The Guardian shows both the 1999 map and the incorrect one in the new edition of the atlas.
Glaciologists, mindful of a 2007 United Nations report that erroneously said in a footnote that Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035, swiftly swung into action last weekend. The scientists asserted via every form of media — radio, blogs, newspaper columns — that 15 percent of Greenland’s ice cover has not disappeared since 1999. The ice sheet is decreasing, but at a rate that is more akin to 0.1 percent by volume over twelve years:
…seven researchers at Cambridge University’s Scott Polar Research Institute backed by glaciologists in the US, Europe and elsewhere, have said that both the maps and the figure of 15% are wrong.
In a letter to the editors of the Times Atlas they agree that the Greenland ice cover is reducing but at nowhere near the extent claimed in the book…A new, 13th edition of the Times Atlas of the World was released last week and immediately sparked a controversy for its incorrect map of Greenland.
“Numerous glaciers have retreated over the last decade. Because of this retreat, many glaciers are now flowing faster and terrain previously ice-covered is emerging along the coast – but not at the rate suggested. Recent satellite images of Greenland make it clear that there are in fact still numerous glaciers and permanent ice cover where the new Times Atlas shows ice-free conditions and the emergence of new lands.”
The Times Atlas is published by Times Books, an imprint of HarperCollins that is owned by Rupert Murdoch’s Manhattan-based News Corporation.
Researchers offered this explanation for what Jeffrey Kargel, a senior researcher at the University of Arizona, labeled a “killer mistake”:
Several researchers said the atlas’s authors may have confused ice thickness with ice extent, defining the ice sheet margin at 500m high (the contour) and colouring brown and pink anything below 500m. “They [seem to] show the contour as ice thickness, colouring in everything white that is above 500m. They appear to have missed out the edge of the ice sheet,” said Ian Willis, researcher at the Scott Polar Research Institute.
HarperCollins subsidiary Collins Geo spent most of last week defiantly defending the map in the new atlas. A spokeswoman initially said in the Guardian that “We are the best there is. We are confident of the data we have used and of the cartography.” However, on Tuesday, they apologized for using the 15 percent figure in the news release and for not consulting with scientists, but still stood by their map. Then on Thursday, HarpersCollins said it would issue a corrected map:
On reflection and in discussion with the scientific community, the current map does not make the explanation of this topic as clear as it should be. We are now urgently reviewing the depiction of ice in the Atlas against all the current research and data available, and will work with the scientific community to produce a map of Greenland which reflects all the latest data.
HarperCollins has promised to include an insert in already-printed editions of the atlas and also in online editions, to explain how the data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado was apparently misapplied.
Fortunately, thanks to scientists’ fast reaction, “Atlasgate” has been avoided. HarperCollins still insists that there is ”‘no clarity’ in the scientific and cartographic community on the issue of Greenland’s ice cover”: Glaciologists had best remain on the alert.
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