Atlas Shrugged?

‘Outraged’ Glaciologists Say Mappers Misrepresented Greenland Ice Melt

Sara Reardon

CAMBRIDGE, UNITED KINGDOM—So much for claims that climate scientists deliberately misrepresent their data: glaciologists are broadly and loudly panning the latest version of The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, released last week, which shows Greenland having lost 15% of its ice cover in the past 12 years due to warming, turning an area the size of the United Kingdom and Ireland "green." The atlas is published by HarperCollins on behalf of London’s The Times newspaper.

The trouble, researchers say, is that although Greenland’s ice sheet is retreating, the melt is nothing like the scale shown in the atlas and they are mystified at where the error arose. In a letter sent to HarperCollins on Friday evening, researchers at the Cambridge-based Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) quickly attempted to set the record straight. "A sizable portion of the area mapped as ice-free in the Atlas is clearly still ice-covered," they wrote. "There is to our knowledge no support for this claim in the published scientific literature."

"It’s a really bad mapping error," glaciologist Liz Morris of SPRI told ScienceInsider. If 15% of ice was lost, then sea levels would have risen by 1 meter. "That obviously hasn’t happened," she says. "Most people with a science background would have spotted something wrong." While satellite images show that ice in Greenland is certainly retreating in a way that is "very interesting and dramatic," those retreat patterns are far too small to show in a map the resolution of the one in The Times Atlas. The 15% retreat, SPRI glaciologists have worked out, is 150 times the amount of ice loss that has actually occurred.

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Sketchy data. The Times Atlas (left) shows 15% more glacier melt than scientists believe. A map drawn up by SPRI scientists (right) suggests that the map was erroneously based on ice thickness

Credit: (left) The Times Atlas of the World; (right) Toby Benham

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