The publisher of a well-known atlas has apologized for saying that 15 per cent of Greenland's permanent ice cover has had to be erased between 1999 and 2011.
"This was done without consulting the scientific community and was incorrect," said Harper Collins in a statement about the Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World, 13th edition, posted on its U.K. website Tuesday. "We apologize for this and will seek the advice of scientist on any future public statements."
The Times Atlas, updated regularly since 1895, describes itself as providing "the world’s most prestigious and authoritative atlases and maps today." A description of the latest edition says it includes coverage of environmental issues that reveals the extent of rising sea levels, disappearing islands and shrinking lakes.
Harper Collins said the atlas arrived at the erroneous Greenland statistic, which was highlighted in a press release, by comparing Greenland's ice cap between the 10th edition, published in 1999, and the newly published 13th edition of the atlas. The press release had said the area that had to be changed from white to green was roughly the size of the United Kingdom and Ireland combined.
Even though the error was reportedly generated from the map, the company insisted that it "[stands] by the accuracy of the maps in this and all other editions of The Times Atlas."
The Times Atlas has faced scathing criticism since the launch of the 13th edition from scientists who said the loss of ice from Greenland was greatly exaggerated.
Jeffrey Kargel, senior research scientist at the University of Arizona, called the maps "ridiculously off-base."
"I don't know how exactly the Times Atlas produced their results, but they are not scientific results," he said in a statement. Poul Christofferson, a glaciologist at the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, said scientists from the institute were "extremely puzzled" by the Time Atlas's claim.
In a statement, he added that a comparison of recent satellite images of Greenland with the new map showed that "a sizeable portion of the area mapped as ice-free in the Atlas is clearly still ice-covered."
"We do not disagree with the statement that climate is changing and that the Greenland Ice Sheet is affected by this," he said. "It is, however, crucial to report climate change and its impact accurately and to back bold statements with concrete and correct evidence."
Graham Cogley, a professor of Geography at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., said the Times Atlas's claim represents a retreat of Greenland's massive ice sheet at a rate of 1.5 per cent a year – a rate "at least 10 times faster than reality."
"It could easily be 20 times too fast and might well be 50 times too fast," he said in a statement.