Very interesting Atlas

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Very interesting Atlas

Jeffrey Kargel
Dear Jethro,

I am not sure who at the Times Atlas should be contacted, but you were the first name and email address I found.  Perhaps you could direct me to the right person, perhaps the cartographers (both the hands-on cartographer for Greenland and the manager).

The glaciology community is a bit puzzled about all the news stories coming out about a 15% loss of ice area in Greenland in a 10-year period.  We are well aware of rapid, dramatic changes occurring in Greenland, but we are puzzled about the source of the -15% figure.  Furthermore, we are uncertain why there was so much 'growth' of brown color marking the periphery of Greenland in the new map compared to the older ones.  Perhaps due to melting ice and dust accumulation on the surface of the ice?  The 15% loss figure is obviously wrong by a factor that I would guess (only guess) is a factor of 30 too high (some of our Cryolist Greenland experts could give a better number that is not a guess).  The 15% clearly is dependent on interpreting the new brown in the new atlas as due to retreat of ice from those areas, but it clearly has not been the case.  So perhaps you could illuminate for all of us what exactly is portrayed by the new brown.  In some satellite images I often see a discoloration near the edges of ice sheets, and that can be due to wet and slightly dusty ice at the periphery (but it's still thick glacier ice), versus snowier surfaces higher up on the ice sheet away from the periphery.  The cryosphere community has had a repeating problem where news media and other non-science people interpret removal of snow cover as disappearance of glacier ice, whereas this often is simply a seasonal variation in snow cover or interannual difference in snow or of ice grain size due to snow annealing under the influence of meltwater, or sometimes interannual difference in the amount of exposure of soot and dust (that difference also sometimes being related to surface melting). 

So when news media representatives contact you, please recognize that they might be misinterpreting the newer and older editions of your Atlas.  For our own benefit, however, we would be interested to know about the sources of the 15% number (from the media, or who else?), and what prompted the cartographer to color the periphery of the ice the way they did. These matters are important to clarify so that the real, true dynamics can be conveyed to the public.  The reality, as the experts can inform better than I, is dramatic and impactful, and hopefully is conveyed adequately elsewhere in your Atlas--that is where the story should be, not in this creeping brown airbrushing.

In other parts of the new Atlas compared to the older editions, as reflected in the Guardian news article, I see some very interesting changes, reflecting reality as best I know it, in the Aral Sea and elsewhere. I'll purchase a copy of the new Atlas as soon as I get a chance. 


Dr. Jeffrey S. Kargel
Department of Hydrology & Water Resources
University of Arizona
Tucson, Arizona 85742
+1 520-780-7759

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