Experts Argue New Times Atlas Wrong On Greenland
September 20, 2011

Experts Argue New Times Atlas Wrong On Greenland


There is controversy surrounding the latest edition of the Times Atlas of the World, as leading scientists on Monday claimed the cartographers behind the reference tome overestimated the effects of climate change on Greenland.

According to Guardian Environment Editor John Vidal, the 13th edition of the HarperCollins-published atlas, which was released last week, showed "large areas" of the nation's eastern and southern coasts, colored "brown and pink, and the permanent ice cap now covering a significantly smaller area than it did in the 1999 12th edition of the atlas."

In total, the atlas claims that 300,000 square kilometers (115,831 square miles), or approximately 15% of Greenland's ice cover, had been lost since the publication of the 12th edition, 12 years ago. Those figures were obtained from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Colorado, but researchers at the University of Cambridge's Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) doubt their veracity.

In a letter sent to the Times, cited by BBC News Environmental Correspondent Richard Black in a Monday article, representatives of the Institute wrote: "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."

"We do not know why this error has occurred, but it is regrettable that the claimed drastic reduction in the extent of ice in Greenland has created headline news around the world," they added. "There is to our knowledge no support for this claim in the published scientific literature."

Furthermore, SPRI Glaciologist Poul Christoffersen told Nina Chestney of Reuters that the 15% decrease in permanent ice cover since 1999 was "both incorrect and misleading."

Jeffrey S. Kargel, senior research scientist at the University of Arizona, told Chestney that the new maps of Greenland included in the almanac were "ridiculously off base" and "way exaggerated," while Trent University Professor of Geography J. Graham Cogley added that the rate of ice loss claimed by the Almanac was a minimum of 10-times faster than the actual melting.

A spokeswoman for the Atlas defended the redrawn map, telling Vidal, "We are the best there is. We are confident of the data we have used and of the cartography“¦ We have compared the extent of the ice surface in 1999 with that of 2011. Our data shows that it has reduced by 15%."

"You will always have a level of generalization. But we have compared like with like. The same criteria were applied to the 1999 data to that of 2011," the spokeswoman, who was not identified by the Guardian, added. "We are not saying that all of the ice loss is due to climate change. It is the lion's share but the data has improved over the period."


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