Row over British atlas showing greener Greenland

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A row was raging Tuesday over The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, often considered the most prestigious and authoritative, over its depiction of a reduced ice sheet over Greenland.

Polar scientists took issue with the publishers' claim that there had been a 15 percent shrinkage in the ice sheet over the last 12 years. The maps show a much greener coastline around the giant island, part of the Kingdom of Denmark.

The 544-page atlas, which costs £150 ($236, 172 euros), "is relied on and trusted by governments around the world, international organisations including the UN, the European Commission and media companies," publisher HarperCollins said.

The company admitted Tuesday that the 15 percent figure was incorrect, but said it stood by the accuracy of the new maps in the 13th edition of the atlas.

"The Times Atlas is renowned for its authority and we do our utmost to maintain that reputation," HarperCollins said in a statement.

"In compiling the content of the atlas, we consult experts in order to depict the world as accurately as possible."

But for the launch of the latest edition of the atlas, the company issued publicity material which it admitted was "misleading with regard to the Greenland statistics".

This material had said the newly-exposed land was "'green' and ice-free".

"This is concrete evidence of how climate change is altering the face of the planet forever -- and doing so at an alarming and accelerating rate," HarperCollins said.

Since the 10th edition in 1999, "we have had to erase 15 percent of Greenland's once permanent ice sheet," the company said.

"While global warming has played a role in this reduction, it is also as a result of the much more accurate data and in-depth research that is now available."

Experts from the Scott Polar Research Institute, part of the prestigious University of Cambridge in eastern England, had strongly challenged those assertions -- as well as the maps themselves.

"Recent satellite images of Greenland make it clear that there are in fact still numerous glaciers and permanent ice cover where the new Times Atlas shows ice-free conditions and the emergence of new lands," they said in an open letter.

"We do not know why this error has occurred, but it is regrettable that the claimed drastic reduction in the extent of ice in Greenland has created headline news around the world.

"There is to our knowledge no support for this claim in the published scientific literature."

The new edition of the atlas includes an estimated 25,000 updates and 7,000 changes to place names, its website says.

© 2011 AFP

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