Times Atlas Greenland Map Error

Caitlin Dempsey


When the thirteenth edition of the Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World was recently released including changes to the depiction of ice cover in Greenland based on its interpretation of data from US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC).   A brouhaha ensued over those changes to the map of Greenland, which HarperCollins, the publisher of the atlas, proclaimed was an example of the effects of global warming on reducing ice cover.  The ill-received press release, touted that the publishers “had to erase 15% of Greenland’s once permanent ice cover”.

The scientific community reacted strongly to the statement, and scientists from the Scott Polar Research Institute released a strongly worded rebuttal to the claims only with their own analysis of the state of Greenland’s ice cover:

SPRI scientists compared recent satellite images of Greenland with the new map and found 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.  Furthermore, the low-lying fringe of the main ice sheet appears to be shown as land, not ice.  They concluded that a sizable portion of the area mapped as ice-free in the Atlas is clearly still ice-covered.


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The Scott Polar Research Institute points out that the volume of ice contained in the Greenland Ice Sheet is approximately 2.9 million cubic kilometers and the current rate at which ice is lost is roughly 200 cubic kilometers per year. This is on the order of 0.1% by volume over 12 years.

The BBC has published a comparison of the cartographic depiction of Greenland in the Times Atlas with MODIS satellite imagery.  A smaller view of the area of particular concern around eastern Greenland is below.

Times Atlas' depiction of Eastern Greenland's ice cover as compared to the ice cover as seen via a MODIS satellite image.
Times Atlas’ depiction of Eastern Greenland’s ice cover as compared to the ice cover as seen via a MODIS satellite image.

As a result of the backlash, HarperCollins issued an updated press release stating its staff is “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

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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.