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Atlasgate: Times Atlas Must Be Pulped for Ice Error

Posted on the 21 September 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost

Atlasgate: Times Atlas must be pulped for ice error

Greenland from space. Photocredit: NASA Goddard Photo and Video

There are red faces all round at the offices of The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World. It costs £150 and its reputation is paramount – at least, until this week. It all comes down to Greenland (which, as every schoolboy knows, is not actually very green at all.) The atlas, however, begged to differ, and in its new edition it modified the country’s appearance, changing huge areas of the coast from white to green. This gives the impression of enomrous acceleration in the melting of ice.  Publicity puff for the atlas (published by HarperCollins) said that 15 per cent of the ice sheet around Greenland had melted over the last twelve years. That’s about the size of Britain and Ireland put together. The true rate of ice loss, say staff at the Scott Polar institute, is “less than 0.1 per cent.” Several Cambridge scientists wrote to the atlas claiming that the map was totally wrong. Dr Ian Willis, a Cambridge glaciologist, accused them of making GCSE errors. The atlas will now be pulped.

“Do they really want people to have an atlas for the next 12 years that has an inaccurate map of Greenland? This is not just any atlas, it has built its reputation on being the most accurate in the world, and while I am pleased they partially acknowledge this error, it needs to be corrected now or the damage will just continue.” And Dr Jeffrey Kargel, a hydrologist at the University of Arizona in the U.S., said to The Daily Mail.

How did this happen? Few books get as much attention, said Richard Black on the BBC. So how did this happen? Well the current theory, according to Ted Scambos, a researcher at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in the US, is that the figure might have come from a map maintained by the NSIDC, which was meant to show the thickness of the “central portion of the ice sheet.” Scambos, reported Black, is worried that this mistake may mean that people don’t worry about global warming any more – but it’s still a major threat.

“The conclusion that 15 per cent 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 apologise and will seek the advice of scientists on any future public statements. We stand by the accuracy of the maps in this and all other editions of the Times Atlas,” said a HarperCollins spokesman.

The children! Won’t somebody please think of the children! Christopher Booker on The Daily Mail said that the atlas had been caught red-handed promoting global warming propaganda. It’s disturbing to think that this book will find its way into schools, where it will be used as evidence by teachers. There has been too much evidence that globalm warming is little more than a scare story. We should be pleased that scientists knocked this story on the head, as we’re going to need a lot more proper scientific enquiry like that if the world is going to stay sane.

Climate change? What climate change? What next? asked James Delingpole on his Telegraph blog. Will the atlas remove bits of Bangladesh in its next edition to show the “emotional truth” about “man made climate change”? Just imagine what the atlas’ spokesman might say: “maps based on accurately recorded geographical features belong in the Victorian age of child chimney sweeps. What we need now is maps that change the world, transforming into something which it isn’t actually yet but might be one day if we don’t act NOW!”

You’ve got it wrong, Mr Delingpole. We still need to worry, said Geoffrey Lean, also on The Daily Telegraph. Arctic ice is still melting – sea ice this year is the “same as its lowest ever extent, in 2007.” Sermeq Kujalleq, Greenland’s largest glacier, is retreating by ten miles a year; nearby the sea hadn’t frozen, and broccoli was being harvested further south. There’s no ice for huskies to sled on either. Things are still warming up, and we need to remember that.


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