New Times Atlas should be pulped, say scientists

Sep 21, 2011

Google Earth more accurate than £150 atlas, says angry Greenland specialist

PUBLISHER Harper Collins, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, is set to lose a small fortune if it bows to pressure from climate change scientists demanding that the Times Atlas, one of the imprint's blue riband titles, be pulped. The scientists say the atlas has grossly exaggerated the extent to which the ice sheet on Greenland (above) has melted over the last decade.

Harper Collins launched the 2011 edition of the authoritative reference book last week with press releases and publicity material that claimed that 15 per cent of the island's ice sheet had disappeared since its 1999 edition. The shocking statistic was widely featured in newspapers across the world, giving the £150 book a brilliant sales push.

However, the atlas has quickly come under fire. Cambridge University's Scott Polar Institute says the map was "incorrect and misleading" and that the actual amount of ice that has been lost over the 12-year period is less than 0.1 per cent.

In a letter to Harper Collins, the institute said: "We compared recent satellite images of Greenland with the new map and found that there are in fact numerous glaciers and permanent ice cover where the new Times Atlas shows ice-free conditions and the emergence of new lands."

Dr Ian Willis, a glaciologist at the Cambridge University body, accused the atlas' compilers of making "GCSE-level errors", with certain numbers on the map confusing the altitude of the land with the depth of the ice.

"If I was a primary school teacher giving out a project on Greenland I would refer my students to Google Earth rather than the latest Times Atlas," he said.

"They are doing a disservice to the art of cartography, to the reputation of their atlas, to scientists who are actually researching the real changes that are occurring in Greenland, and to the general public who need to know the truth about how climate change is impacting our ice masses worldwide."

A Harper Collins spokeswoman was forced to admit that some of the areas which had been represented as ice-free were indeed covered by up to a quarter-of-a-mile of ice. And she conceded that the publicity materials had been incorrect. But there is no promise to pulp the atlas - yet.

Sign up for our daily newsletter