Frank Pattyn

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Research - Outreach

Studying the dynamical behaviour of ice sheets and glaciers is of importance if we want to understand and predict how they react to changes in the environment (climate), of which the recent global warming is of major concern. Recent warming trends result in observable changes to the Earth's cryosphere. However, the picture is quite complex for the Antarctic ice sheet. Some areas are more vulnerable to melting, particularly those that exist in the warmer parts of Antarctica, such as the Antarctic Peninsula. Glaciers along the Siple Coast are not only fast but fickle (they speed up and slow down over a period of hundreds of years), while in some areas the ice sheet thins rapidly (Amundsen Sea Embayment). Ice dynamics and the interaction of the ice sheet with the underlying substrate play an important role in the complex behaviour of the ice sheet.

There is currently a great lack of accuracy in the models that are used to predict the effect of climate change on the mass loss or gain of ice sheets. The major reason for this is that there is a lack of knowledge on the dynamic behaviour of grounding lines. The grounding line is the area where the ice sheet, as it flows towards the ocean, starts to float and forms an ice shelf (see figure).


While the calving off of icebergs further downstream constitutes the main cause for the mass loss of the Antarctic ice sheet, changes in the mass flux across the grounding line also has a direct impact on sea level. This is because as ice crosses the grounding line, it becomes part of the ocean system and positively contributes to sea level rise. It is therefore important to know the amount of mass loss that can be attributed to melting, but also the amount of mass loss that provokes an increased mass discharge across the grounding line.

Research activities

Numerical modelling of the cryosphere (ice sheets, glaciers, ice streams)

Dynamics of the Antarctic ice sheet

Glacier studies


Research projects

  • IDyRa: Ice Dynamics derived from englacial Radar reflection Architecture. FRFC project (2011-2015). (PI)
  • Ice2Sea: estimating the future contribution of continental ice to sea-level rise. EU FP7 coorperation. Work package coordinator (2009-2013). (PI)
  • EUFAR project “Sor Rondane Mountain Glaciers – Antarctica”. European Facility for Airborne Research. 16 flight hours of radar sounding. 2010-2011. (co-PI)
  • BELISSIMA: Belgian Ice Sheet - Shelf Ice Measurements in Antarctica. BELSPO. 2008-2011. (PI/coordinator)
  • ICECUBE-DYN: Deep ice behaviour and subglacial linkages within ICECUBE, South Pole, Antarctica. ARC project (ULB, Communauté française de Belgique), 2008-2012.
  • Estimation of glacier mass loss in the Brooks Range, Alaska and its contribution to 21st Century sea-level rise. FNRS Crédit aux chercheurs, 2009-2010.
  • Modélisation de gestion des ressources hydriques d’origine glaciaire sous le cadre des changements climatiques (Cordillère de La Paz, Villes de la Paz et El Alto). Projet de coopération bilatérale avec la Bolivie (CGRI): 2007-2010.
  • Dynamique des lignes d'ancrage et stabilité de la calotte d'Antarctique. Projet Tournesol, Communauté Française Wallonie Bruxelles (2007-2008): échanges avec LGGE, Grenoble, France (promoter).
  • "Au delà de la dernière glaciation: un programme de forage profond au Groenland septentrional pendant l'Année Polaire Internationale (IPY-NEEM) - The last interglacial and beyond: a northwest Greenland deep ice core drilling programme during the International Polar Year (IPY-NEEM)", FRFC project (FNRS), 2007-2010. (promoter)
  • ASPI (Antarctic Subglacial Processes and Interactions: the role of transition zones in ice sheet stability). Belgian Federal Public Planning Service Science Policy Research programme “Science for a sustainable development”, Belgian Federal Science Policy Office (BELSPO). (coordinater)
  • EU Framework V project "European Project on Ice Coring in Antarctica (EPICA)" 2001-2004 (Contributor to Work Package WP7)
  • EU Framework VI project "EPICA-MIS: New paleoreconstructions from Antarctic ice and marine records" 2004-2007 (Contributor to Work Package WP7).
  • "Antarctic ice-sheet dynamics and climatic change: modelling and ice composition studies (AMICS)", Research project EV/03/08 (Research action EV), Belgian Science Policy, 2000-2005 (co-promotor)
  • Belgian Polar Research Cluster (BE-POLES), Belgian Science Policy, 2003-2006 (co-promotor)
  • "Dynamics of the Antarctic ice cap and climate changes (a contribution to EPICA)", Research project A4/DD/E03 (Research action A4), Belgian Science Policy, 1996-2000 (co-promotor)
  • "Glacier fluctuations and climatic change in South Siberia", Research project BL/R/06 (Research action BL), Belgian Science Policy, 1997-2000 (co-promotor).
  • WCRP ACSYS/CliC Numerical Experimentation Group: ISMIP (Ice Sheet Model Intercomparison Project) (convenor of higher-order model excercise)

  • Education and outreach