Times Atlas Caught Out on Greenland’s Ice Sheet Melt

By Clive Wakley. The publishers of the prestigious Times Atlas have admitted that their depiction of the extent of the Greenland ice sheet, which suggests that it has shrunk by around 15 per cent over the last decade, is erroneous.

This follows exchanges between the publishers and scientists; the latter pointing out that some coastal areas of Greenland illustrated within the publication, as being ice-free, are in fact, ice-covered.

The retraction from Harper-Collins, the publishers of the Times Atlas, came after experts at the US’s main research body for the Arctic, the National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC), insisted that their research showed that the Times Atlas was wrong.

The NSIDC, in a statement, explained that: “The loss of ice from Greenland is far less than the Times Atlas brochure indicates.”

Experts from other scientific bodies, including Britain’s Scott Polar Institute, also support this view.

One spokesman for the Scott Polar Research Institute claimed that he and fellow researchers had examined the atlas and found that “a sizeable portion of the area mapped as ice-free in the Atlas is clearly still ice-covered”.

The spokesman also added that there was “to our knowledge no support for (the 15 per cent ice reduction) claim in published scientific literature.

The new edition of the Times Atlas, a bestselling reference book, claimed that surveys of the Greenland ice cap showed it had diminished in extent by about 15% since 1999, when the 10th edition of the atlas was published.

Although it is generally accepted that Greenland has been losing ice mass, and that the area covered by ice is slightly smaller than in past decades, experts find it difficult to put a precise figure on the extent of the loss.

This is because the extent of ice cover changes from year to year depending on temperature and seasonally factors.

Furthermore, ice fields – being three-dimensional – means that it is the volume of ice, rather than its extent, that is the critical factor.

Some experts speculate that the current loss amounts to around 200 cubic kilometres per year – a miniscule volume compared to the estimated 2.9 million cubic kilometres of ice thought to currently comprise the Greenland icecap.

Indeed, at the present rate and assuming a greatly extended period of solar-induced global warming, then it would still take centuries for Greenland to become ice-free.

Scientists are confident that the observed loss of Arctic ice, as seen in the retreat of some (but not all) of the island’s biggest glaciers and the break-up of thinning sea ice, is a result of the generally warming of the last decade.

This, of course, is a feature of solar-induced climate change that has been recorded in historical climatic records many times down the centuries.

It was during one such period of warming that sections of Greenland’s coastal strip were warm enough for Norse colonists to establish farming communities; providing a convenient “port of call” for Norse expeditions venturing further west, to mainland North America, as recorded in their sagas.

Only a few years ago similar claims concerning massive ice loss and melting glaciers, this time in the Himalayas, were also exposed as erroneous.

This resulted in severe embarrassment for the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which suffered a loss of credibility from which it has yet to recover.

As regards the source of the atlas error, two explanations have so far been advanced.

The first has it that a close inspection of the new map of Greenland shows that elevation contours are noticeably different to the contours in an older map – from which it appears that the Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World may have used 500 metre ice thickness to map the ice sheet margin; presumably mistakenly regarding those areas with less than a 500 metre thickness of ice as ice-free.

A second suggestion is that the maps have been compiled from satellite images where Greenland’s snow line has been mistaken for the ice margin; snow being both much brighter than either bare ground or bare ice.

Whatever the explanation the result is that Greenland’s vast ice sheets are not going to melt away in ten years or so, as a compounded 15 per cent reduction per year would suggest.

In fact they are going to be around for many centuries to come – even supposing we are in and remain in, an extended “warm period”, as we have so often been before.

The lesson of history is that ice sheets wax and wane in accord with climatic conditions; they shrink in periods of global warming and grow during periods of global cooling; there is absolutely no reason to believe that this process won’t continue ad infinitum.

This news will nether please the “man-made” global warming lobby nor stock market hedge funds having heavy investment exposure to carbon trading or in alternative energy development technology.

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