Atlas Can't Shrug Scientists; Publisher Issues Apology and Promises Corrections

HarperCollins says it will insert corrections into the flawed atlas that draw on data (pink) from the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

(left) The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World; (right) NSIDC

The new The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World that had glaciologists in a rage for incorrectly showing Greenland as having lost 15% of its ice since 1999 is about to get a retroactive makeover thanks to some very persistent scientists.

Nervous glaciologists, eager to avoid a kerfuffle that climate skeptics might christen "Atlasgate," barraged both The Times Atlas' publisher, HarperCollins, and the media with complaints. Researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado, which provided the data used by HarperCollins cartographers, quickly distanced themselves from the new atlas, alleging that they weren't consulted before the publisher made its bold statement. On Tuesday, HarperCollins apologized for the 15% number in the news release, as well as for not consulting scientists. But they stood by their map.

"That's good, but they need one more sentence," geographer Graham Cogley of Trent University in Canada told ScienceInsider yesterday. The Scott Polar Research Institute went so far as to ask HarperCollins to issue a corrected map. In the meantime, NSIDC and other researchers managed to track down which of their data sets and maps the cartographers used: it showed the thickness of the central core of the largest, central glacier, not the peripheral glaciers or extent of the ice cover.

Today, HarperCollins issued that more substantial statement:

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.

They promise to include an insert into already-printed editions and the online version of the atlas, explaining how the data was gleaned, what it says, and the current scientific understanding of Greenland's ice cover.