Climb-down over Greenland ice

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Image caption Times Comprehensive Atlas Of The World undated handout maps showing Greenland in its 1999 edition (left) and in its 2011 edition

Listening to Harper Collins' Sheena Barclay on the programme this morning I was reminded of the high wire antics of a politician trying to concede ground without losing face.

To paraphrase her argument: There's nothing wrong with the depiction of ice cover over Greenland in the latest edition of the Times Atlas of the World, but hey, if people don't like it, let's get together and draw up a new map.

It is, when you stop and think about it, quite a concession. Why, after all, would you agree to redraft a map - a process that may take many months of painstaking work - if you stand by its veracity?

The fact is Harper Collins have been brought to this point by the unprecedented, negative, reaction of the scientific community.

Last week a group of researchers at Cambridge's Scott Polar Research Institute wrote to the publisher complaining that "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".

The controversy was fuelled by a press release accompanying publication which claimed that 15% of Greenland's once permanent ice cover had melted away, turning an area the size of the UK and Ireland from white to green.

The scientists maintain the real figure is closer to 1%, and there have been calls for the entire run of the 13th edition of the prestigious Times Atlas of the World to be pulped.

Without actually admitting they got it wrong, Harper Collins have now offered to produce a new, revised map, based on all the available data on a separate sheet that can be slotted into the existing atlas, and to produce an accompanying explanation detailing the controversy.

Speaking this morning the managing director of Collins Geo (the imprint which published the Times Atlas of the World), Sheena Barclay, said the representation of ice over Greenland was a complex issue, but acknowledged that the press release had been misleading.

"Having engaged with the scientific community, and having had a very positive response, we feel now at the Times Atlas that we can create a much more detailed map of Greenland that will represent more effectively the ice cover as it is and the changes that are occurring."

That partial compromise may satisfy the scientific community, but it's unlikely to mollify more sceptical critics who have seized on the map as yet another example of the exaggerated claims being made about the extent of global warming.