Harper Collins to "urgently review" maps following more criticism from scientists
- 22 Sep 2011, 11:00
- Robin Webster
Earlier this week the team at Harper Collins admitted they
had made a mistake in a "misleading" press release which
indicated that Greenland had lost 15% of its permanent ice cover.
Their apology said "This was done without consulting the scientific
community and was incorrect" but added
"We stand by the accuracy of the maps in
this and all other editions of The Times Atlas"
Since then, however, the pressure has ramped up -
from the media, but more crucially from the
scientific community - to admit that the maps themselves
were wrong. In a
press release yesterday, scientists from the Scott Polar
Research Institute (SPRI) at the University of Cambridge put it
"...scientists remain troubled by the
final statement in the latest press release from HarperCollins, "We
stand by the accuracy of the maps in this and all other editions of
The Times Atlas". Scientists still contend that the latest map of
Greenland is highly misleading and is not a proper map of the ice
extent and topography. The map shows only the extent of ice greater
than 500m thick (furthermore, it appears to show contours of Ice
Thickness rather than Surface Elevation). All permanent ice cover
less than 500m thick has simply been erased.
As far as the UK scientists are aware,
Greenland is the only map that does not show the topography and
extent of ice correctly. The maps of Antarctica, Iceland and
European Alps all appear to look sensible. If HarperCollins had
applied their "greater than 500m ice thickness rule" to other areas
of the globe, there would be virtually no glaciers mapped in
Iceland or the Alps.
The scientists urge HarperCollins to
acknowledge that their mapping of Greenland's ice is incomplete and
misleading. We would encourage them to issue a corrected map for
Greenland which shows the full ice extent and the true surface
topography. The current map is in marked contrast to the overall
quality and authoritative nature of the rest of the Atlas."
This morning Harper Collins have issued a response - or '
clarification' - that admits that
"On reflection and in discussion with
the scientific community, the current map does not make the
explanation of this topic as clear as it should be."
"We are now urgently reviewing the
depiction of ice in the Atlas against all the current research and
data available, and will work with the scientific community to
produce a map of Greenland which reflects all the latest data.
We will then create an insert for the current atlas
showing this map and also give an explanation of the situation and
how we have mapped it. Any material generated as a result of
this activity will also be made available online and incorporated
into the Atlas."
Several media commentators yesterday pointed to the role of the
scientific community in recognising and highlighting this error,
with a Dr Poul Christoffersen
from SPRI laying out how the scientists were able to "rally,
mobilise and respond to a massively incorrect press statement by
HarperCollins" in the Guardian. Mark Lynas labelled it "
a victory for science" and in the Telegraph,
Geoffrey Lean compared it to the "bombastic, self-defeating"
initial reaction of HarperCollins.
Harper Collins continue
"The one thing that is very apparent is
that there is no clarity in the scientific and cartographic
community on this issue but we have been consulting widely over the
last week with experts in the field and have received a good
response and support with new sources and data."
This is something of an ambiguous statement and it will be
interesting to see how the scientific community react to it.
Scientists certainly seem to have been pretty clear that 15% was
wrong - with
Julienne Stroeve from the National Snow and Ice Data Center for
example commenting that "Even a graduate student would have caught
the mistake they made." There is also a mass of evidence that melt
of the Greeland
ice-sheet is happening, and is having an impact on sea-level
rise. But of course that is not the same as wide agreement on what
a map looks like.
HarperCollins concludes somewhat optimistically
"This most up-to-date information from
all the latest sources would be a positive outcome. If the
controversy about the Times Atlas encourages scientists to come
together and clarify some of the confusion about our climate and
how it is changing, the outcome will help the general public, and
indeed all of us, better understand this complex issue."
Whether this media story has really done anything to "clarify
some of the confusion about our climate and how it is changing" for
the general public is somewhat questionable. As well as
praise for the scientific community, the mistake by
HarperCollins has also predictably attracted media coverage that
implies that all climate science is exaggerated - including a a
full-page article in the Daily Mail yesterday by Christopher
Booker entitled "Global warming and the twisting of our children's
As a Senior Research Scientist at the University of Arizona has
"The Times Atlas maps have been
publicised in the media far and wide. But make no mistake:
this is not what is happening, this is not science, and this is not
what scientists are saying. Greenland specialists have
documented what is actually happening in Greenland, and it involves
some incredibly rapid changes, mainly increasing melting, thinning,
and retreat; and slight thickening in some sectors, but overall
Greenland is a story of massive, rapid retreat."
The melting of the Greenland ice-sheet (which we have looked
into more detail
here) remains an enormously important scientific issue that
deserves to be discussed - accurately - in the mainstream
There is also more about Greenland ice melt in 2011 here.