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Friday 22nd August 2014, 10:49 BST | Cambridge,UK

“A stupid mistake” – Cambridge scientists condemn Times Atlas

Cambridge scientists have been among those condemning the most recent edition of the Times Atlas

Maps of Greenland from 1999 (left) and 2011 (right). The extent of the ice retreat shown in these two images is disputed

Bold claims made by the Times Atlas on the devastating effects of climate change have been challenged by a group of scientists, including seven from Cambridge University’s Scott Polar Research Institute.

The atlas, which describes itself as ‘a benchmark of cartographic excellence’, erased 15 per cent of Greenland’s once permanent ice cover in their latest edition, but experts have said that its assertions regarding Greenland’s melting ice sheet are "implausible" and "a stupid mistake".

The publishers, HarperCollins, described it as “concrete evidence of how climate change is altering the face of the planet forever - and doing so at an alarming and accelerating rate".

However, the claims were quickly challenged by seven scientists from Cambridge University’s Scott Polar Research Institute, among other leading glaciologists.

In a letter to HarperCollins, they wrote: "A sizable portion of the area mapped as ice-free in the Atlas is clearly still ice-covered. There is to our knowledge no support for this claim in the published scientific literature."

A glacier in West Greenland. Cambridge Scientists dispute the extent of their retreat as shown in the Time's Atlas

Professor Elizabeth Morris, OBE, of the Scott Polar Institute, described it as “a really bad mapping error”, explaining that a 15% ice loss would lead to a sea level rise of 1 metre.

“As soon as scientists saw this, there was absolute outrage,” she said. “We are not saying in any way that climate change and the loss of the ice sheet is not going on.  The danger is if people quote these absurd figures the next thing that happens is climate change sceptics say scientists are making daft claims. We are not. It is the publicity people.”

HarperCollins, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, initially refuted the criticisms, saying the 15% reduction in the ice sheet was based on information from the “much respected and widely-cited National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)”.

However, the NSIDC has suggested that the slip-up arose because one of their maps was misinterpreted by the writers of the Times Atlas.

HarperCollins released a statement today saying that “the current map does not make the explanation of this topic as clear as it should be”, and they were “urgently reviewing the information”.  But their stance remained unapologetic, saying that “if the controversy about the Times Atlas encourages scientists to come together and clarify some of the confusion about our climate and how it is changing, the outcome will help the general public...better understand this complex issue."

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