Times Atlas Publishers Apologise, Stand By Atlas

The publishers of The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, Harper Collins, have issued a press release apologising for the inaccuracy of their press release which stated that Greenland had lost 15% of its permanent ice cap.

For the launch of the latest edition of the atlas (The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, 13th edition), we issued a press release which unfortunately has been misleading with regard to the Greenland statistics. We came to these statistics by comparing the extent of the ice cap between the 10th and 13th editions (1999 vs 2011) of the atlas. The conclusion that was drawn from this, that 15% of Greenland’s once permanent ice cover has had to be erased, was highlighted in the press release not in the Atlas itself.   This was done without consulting the scientific community and was incorrect.   We apologize for this and will seek the advice of scientists on any future public statements.

However, they add in the last sentence of the release that “we stand by the accuracy of the maps in this and all other editions of The Times Atlas.”

This comes after several days of scientific confusion and furor.

On publication of the atlas on Monday, Harper Collins released a press release which said that the atlas is “turning Greenland ‘green’ because the new edition has had to erase 15% of Greenland’s once permanent ice cover”.

Immediately scientists around the world started talking to one another before releasing press releases of their own, raising the awareness of the supposed inaccuracy of the statement and questioning the science behind it. To quote Dr Poul Christoffersen, a lecturer at the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge, writing for the Guardian;

Jeffrey Kargel from the University of Arizona wrote on the cryolist, an email distribution list used by many students, researchers and academics, that “a number like 15% ice loss … is simply a killer mistake. This is not a scientific error, but it could be perceived as one.”

Graham Cogley, a professor of geography at Trent University in Ontario, Canada, replied “the claims here are simply not backed up by science”, and concluded “this pig can’t fly”.

At the Scott Polar Research Institute, seven scientists including myself issued a press statement on the University of Cambridge website explaining “a 15% decrease in permanent ice cover since the publication of the previous atlas 12 years ago is both incorrect and misleading. A sizable portion of the area mapped as ice-free in the atlas is clearly still ice-covered.”

In the end, it will be interesting to see what the map of Greenland actually looks like when we can get our hands on the atlas itself, and what it will mean for the scientific community as they fight yet another thorn in their side towards helping the world realise the peril at its doorstep. Because, as Christoffersen noted later in his article;

So we should worry about climate change and its impact, not only on the Greenland Ice Sheet, but ice masses across the world as a whole.

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