Mapmakers' claim on shape of Greenland suddenly melts away

By Enjoli Liston
Tuesday 20 September 2011 07:35

Prominent polar scientists have said there is "no support" for potentially "damaging" claims, made by The Times Atlas of the World last week, that Greenland's ice cover has shrunk by 15 per cent over the past 12 years as a result of global warming.

The publisher Harper Collins made international headlines when it declared that the new edition of its "comprehensive" atlas, which claims to be the "most authoritative" in the world, had been forced to depict an area the size of the UK and Ireland, previously part of Greenland's permanent ice sheet, as "green and ice-free" due to climate change.

According to promotional material for the 13th edition of the atlas, this provides "concrete evidence of how climate change is altering the face of the planet for ever – and doing so at an alarming and accelerating rate."

However, scientists at the Scott Polar Research Institute at Cambridge University, which investigates climate change in the Arctic and is headed by the revered glaciologist Julian Dowdeswell, have asserted that the publisher's claims are flawed.

"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 Institute said in a letter to Harper Collins, made public yesterday.

"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... There is to our knowledge no support for this claim in the published scientific literature."

Dr Poul Christoffersen, the first signatory to the letter, told The Independent he believed the "inaccurate map" could be damaging to the credibility of the climate change campaign.

"When things are so obviously incorrect then we are obliged, as scientists, to bring this to the public's attention," he said.

Harper Collins yesterday stood by the atlas's contentious depiction of Greenland, and said its assertions were based on "information provided by the much respected and widely-cited" US National Snow and Ice Data Centre.

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