The claim came in a HarperCollins press release on the publication of the 13th edition of the atlas, stating that "global warming was turning Greenland 'green.'" The melting is also depicted in the atlas itself, as cartographers carved out huge chunks of ice to reflect what they claim are the results of a warming planet.
That is not true, scientists say.
Poul Christoffersen, a glaciologist at the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge, said the 15 percent decrease in permanent ice cited "is both incorrect and misleading." He believes the actual number is closer to 0.1 percent.
"It is regrettable that the claimed drastic reduction in the extent of ice in Greenland has created headline news around the world," Christoffersen said. "There is to our knowledge no support for this claim in the published scientific literature."
HarperCollins on Monday tried to justify its position. "We are the best there is. We are confident of the data we have used and of the cartography," a company spokesman explained to the Guardian. "We use data supplied by the U.S. Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Col. They use radar techniques to measure the permanent ice. We have compared the extent of the ice surface in 1999 with that of 2011. Our data shows that it has reduced by 15 percent. That's categorical."
But with mounting pressure from the scientific community, the publisher took an about-face one day later, retreating from earlier claims and admitting the company may have been "misleading with regard to the Greenland statistics."
"The conclusion that was drawn from this, that 15 percent of Greenland's once permanent ice cover has melted away, was highlighted in the press release, not in the Atlas itself," Harpers Collins said in a statement. "This was done without consulting the scientific community and was incorrect. We apologize for this and will seek the advice of scientists on any future public statements."
But when comparing the maps to recent satellite images, Christofferson and his team found "numerous glaciers and permanent ice cover where the new Times Atlas shows ice-free conditions and the emergence of new lands."
"In the aftermath of 'Himalayagate,' we glaciologists are hypersensitive to egregious errors in supposedly authoritative sources," Graham Cogley of Trent University in Canada told the BBC, referring to a debunked claim that the world's glaciers were melting so fast that those in the Himalayas could vanish by 2035.
None of the glaciologists who debunked the Greenland's melting ice cover claim has been paid by "Big Oil."