The Research Unit of Physical Geography develops activities along two main fields:
1. Ice and Climate (contact P. Huybrechts)
2. Volcanology, geomorphology, and natural hazards (contact M. Kervyn)
Ice and Climate
The Ice and Climate research group focuses on the dynamics of glaciers and ice sheets and their interaction with the climatic system. Emphasis is laid on the development and application of three-dimensional thermomechanical ice flow models of the continental cryosphere (Greenland, Antarctica, Quaternary ice sheets of the northern hemisphere), complemented with field-based activities on alpine glaciers.
Current projects aim at a better understanding of the response of the large polar ice sheets to a warming climate, the dynamics of mountain glaciers and small ice caps, and the evolution of global sea level on centennial to millennial time scales. Key periods during the past such as the Last Interglacial are studied with Earth System Models focusing on ice sheet-ocean and ice sheet-atmosphere interactions. Nested flow models applied to ice-core locations on both the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheet are used to assist with the dating and interpretation of ice-core records.
New research efforts being developed include the assimilation of satellite-based remote sensing data to better initialise ice sheet models and the interactive coupling of ice sheet models with regional climate and ocean models at high resolution.
Volcanology, geomorphology and natural hazards
The Volcanology, Geomorphology and Natural hazards research group focuses on the study of hazardous geomorphological and volcanological processes in developing countries, with a specific attention to volcano geomorphology, volcano-tectonic processes and landslides. Current projects are dedicated to the study of hazardous morpho-structural processes in active volcanic regions, including the modelling of volcano growth through eruptive and intrusive processes, lava flow emplacement, flank collapse, interactions with tectonic structures and erosion processes. The applications concentrate in volcanic regions of Africa including North Tanzania, the Virunga Volcanic Province in D.R. Congo, Mt Cameroon, and Mt Karthala in the Comores.
A new research effort is currently being developed to study slope instabilities in developing countries, modelling the spatial distribution of hazards, and studying the impact and remediation strategies for local populations. A growing attention is also paid to the perception and adaptation of population to geohazards.
Research approaches involve combining remote sensing and field observations with scaled quantitative analogue models and application of existing numerical models.