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How Green is Greenland? A Cold, Hard Question for One Publisher

Litigation Los AngelesEnvironmental Litigation  

Stephen T. Holzer


What’s over 100 years old and sports a black eye?

The Times Atlas of the World, whose reputation took a hit because of the Greenland map published in its 13th edition, just might be such a contender.

The challenger, the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) of the University of Cambridge Geology Department, studies the Arctic and Antarctic circles.

But what’s the fuss about? The Times Atlas made its latest edition available in September – it shows a Greenland map that looks a bit more green than white, which would indicate more flora and a lot less ice. Additionally, a press release from Times Books publisher, Harper Collins, stated that Greenland ice receded by about 15 percent in the last 12 years.

When the scientific team from SPRI protested these figures, other scientists warmed to the topic, causing Harper Collins to cite the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Colorado as the source of their information.

The site for the NSIDC does support the claim that the Greenland ice sheet is shrinking, by as much as 30 percent during the summers. However, more snow during the winter offsets some of this melt-off. NSIDC also joined SPRI in saying the Times Atlas got their facts wrong.

The SPRI webpage regarding Greenland ice does state that the ice sheet melts bit by bit every year, approximately one cubic kilometer annually, as a general measurement. But that’s no where near the Times Atlas figures or that of NSIDC. And satellite imagery differs from the maps the Times Atlas used.

So what does Harper Collins have to say about all of this? First the company stood by the figures. Then the company said the atlas info remained correct, but the information issued in the press release was misleading. Now the UK’s Daily Mail reports that Harper Collins admitted it was wrong and will make corrections. The publisher took these three positions in three consecutive days.

Now Harper Collins seems to have its own freeze on further statements regarding the topic. But the Times Atlas of the World homepage still makes the following claim, “The world’s most prestigious and authoritative atlas is a benchmark of cartographic excellence. In its 13th edition, it revels today’s world in all its glory and at its most fragile.”

The situation serves as a reminder that the public should not necessarily take any source on as infallible, when separating fact from fiction in the climate-change debate.

Stephen T. Holzer is a Los Angeles Environmental Law Attorney and Chair of our Environmental Law Practice Group. You can reach him by calling 818.990.2120.


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