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Frank Pattyn

Frank Pattyn
Frank Pattyn

The 2018 Louis Agassiz Medal is awarded to Frank Pattyn for his unsurpassed contributions to the understanding of large-scale ice-sheet dynamics and his leadership in the internationally coordinated efforts to improve ice-sheet models.

Frank Pattyn is a professor at the Free University of Brussels and co-director of the Laboratoire de Glaciology at the same institution. Driven by his scientific curiosity and natural-born leadership, Pattyn has transformed the field of ice-sheet modelling. Several breakthroughs in ice-sheet modelling can be ascribed to his profound understanding of the physics and dynamics of glaciers, combined with his mathematical and numerical expertise. These include, but are not limited to, the development of higher order ice-sheet models capable of simulating fast-flowing ice streams and ice flow across subglacial lakes, accurate determination of the ice sheet thermal regime, improved representation of basal processes, and the migration of ice-sheet grounding lines.

It is fair to say that none of the current ice-sheet models would have reached today’s level of sophistication without Pattyn’s tireless efforts to promote ice-sheet modelling intercomparison exercises. His leadership in coordinating these efforts, dedicated to marine ice sheets and grounding line dynamics, have greatly improved our understanding and predicting capabilities of marine-based ice sheets and their contribution to current and future global sea level change. That is why Pattyn’s work not only has a scientific, but also a sizeable societal impact. The success of these efforts relies on the coordinator’s hard work, collaborative and collegial style, friendly persuasion and scientific standing, all qualities that Pattyn has in abundance. But his expertise is not limited to ice-sheet modelling: Pattyn has also been very active as a field scientist, being participant in and/or having charismatically led nine expeditions to Antarctica and ten more to glaciated regions in Alaska, the Andes and Russia.

In addition to his remarkable scientific achievements, Pattyn also served the international scientific community in numerous important ways, e.g. as (chief) editor of the two leading cryospheric journals, Journal of Glaciology and The Cryosphere, as secretary of the Cryospheric Science Division of the European Geosciences Union and Vice-President of the International Glaciological Society, as chairman of the Belgian National Committee on Antarctic Research and national delegate to the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research. Pattyn is also very active in educating a new generation of glaciologists, having taught PhD courses at various summer schools and teaching courses and supervising students at the bachelor and master level. This makes him an excellent role model to young scientists coming into the field, greatly helping to make glaciological research a worthwhile career to pursue and be involved with. In numerous media interviews, Pattyn speaks with authority on issues related to the risks of global warming, ice-sheet melt and associated sea level rise.

His leadership in research, service and outreach make Pattyn a truly outstanding recipient of the Louis Agassiz Medal.