Photo of the main archive freezer at NICL

About NICL

Overview

The U.S. National Ice Core Laboratory (NICL) is a facility for storing, curating, and studying meteoric ice cores recovered from the glaciated regions of the world. It provides scientists with the capability to conduct examinations and measurements on ice cores, and it preserves the integrity of these ice cores in a long-term repository for current and future investigations.

The ice cores are recovered and studied for a variety of scientific investigations, most of which focus on the reconstruction of past climate states of the Earth. By investigating past climate fluctuations, scientists hope to be able to understand the mechanisms by which climate change is accomplished, and in so doing, they hope to develop predictive capabilities for future climate change.

NICL is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Polar Programs and operated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Scientific management is provided by the University of New Hampshire.


 

Physical Facility

NICL was established in 1993 and is located at the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood, Colorado. NICL is funded by the NSF. NICL is housed administratively within the USGS, Core Science Systems Mission Area, which is responsible for all operational aspects of the facility.

The facility's most important responsibility is for the safe and secure storage and curation of ice cores that are collected primarily by NSF-sponsored projects. The laboratory also provides the opportunity for scientists to examine ice cores without having to travel to remote field sites. The main archive freezer is 55,000 cubic feet in size and is held at a temperature of -36°C. A second room for examination of ice cores, held at -24°C, is 12,000 cubic feet in size and is contiguous with the archive area. There is also a Class-100 HEPA-filtered, cold clean room. NICL also maintains space outside the freezer facility for material fabrication, storage, changing areas, offices, and visiting scientist workspace.

NICL currently stores over 17,000 meters of ice core collected from various locations in Antarctica, Greenland, and North America.


 

Science Management Office

Scientific management of NICL is provided by the NICL-Science Management Office (NICL-SMO) located at the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space, at the University of New Hampshire. NICL-SMO oversees the scientific operations and activities at NICL, and serves as the primary point of contact for scientists interested in access to ice cores stored at NICL and/or use of the NICL facility.


 

Storage & Curation

NICL's most important responsibility is for the safe and secure storage and curation of ice cores that are collected primarily by National Science Foundation sponsored projects. NICL currently stores over 17,000 meters of ice core collected from various locations in Antarctica, Greenland, and North America. NICL's main archive freezer is 55,000 cubic feet in size and is held at a temperature of -36°C.

When a shipment of new ice arrives, the insulated boxes carrying the cores are quickly unloaded into the main archive freezer. Once the new ice has come to thermal equilibrium with its new surroundings, it is carefully unpacked, organized, racked and inspected. After racking, the tubes are checked into NICL's inventory system.

A refrigerator mechanic attends to the refrigeration unit on one of the 40-foot freezer shipping containers used to transport ice cores from Antarctica to NICL

A refrigerator mechanic attends to the refrigeration unit on one of the 40-foot freezer shipping containers used to transport ice cores from Antarctica to NICL.
—Credit: Peter Rejcek, NSF


person inside the main archive freezer at NICL

Brian Bencivengo, NICL Assistant Curator, holds a 1-meter long section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) Divide ice core. All 3,405 meters of the WAIS Divide ice core are in 1-meter long sections and are stored in NICL's main archive freezer.
—Credit: Geoffrey Hargreaves, NICL

A loader removes a pallet of ice core boxes from a freezer shipping container with ice cores from Antarctica

A loader removes a pallet of ice core boxes from a freezer shipping container with ice cores from Antarctica.
—Credit: Peter Rejcek, NSF



 

Examination & Core Processing

In addition to the main archive freezer, NICL also has an exam room held at -24°C that scientists use when examining the ice cores. The exam room is 12,000 cubic feet in size and is contiguous with the main archive area. In addition, there is also a Class-100 HEPA-filtered, cold clean room held at -24°C that scientists can use.

Scientists often use the exam room to cut samples from the ice cores, and then ship the samples back to their university or laboratory for analysis. Very few analyses on the ice cores are actually carried-out at the NICL facility. Almost all of the measurements that are made on the ice cores are conducted back at the scientist's university or laboratory.

A frequent activity that is held at NICL is what is called a core processing line, or CPL, for short. When a new ice core arrives at NICL, researchers from around the country, including young scientists working on their doctorates, gather at NICL for the CPL. During the CPL, the scientists—along with NICL staff—measure, catalog, cut and ship pieces of the ice core to their respective universities and laboratories for analysis. Depending on the complexity of the cut plan, cores can typically be run through a CPL at a rate of 30-35 meters per day. At this rate, a 1000-meter long ice core takes six to eight weeks to process.

The floor plan of the exam room will be specifically tailored to the number of scientists and the type of science or sampling which will be done during a particular CPL. As many as 10 different preparation, cutting, or analysis stations may be set up to accommodate the core with additional processing being performed off the main line if required.

A  ber measures a section of the WAIS Divide ice core as it begins its journey down a CPL

A NICL staff member measures a section of the WAIS Divide ice core as it begins its journey down a CPL. Scientists and technicians will cut the ice so it can be sent to labs around the country for analysis.
[See article - Getting to the Bottom: NICL team processes deepest ice from WAIS Divide project]
—Credit: Peter Rejcek, NSF

A researcher monitors an instrument that measures electrical conductivity in the ice

A researcher monitors an instrument that measures electrical conductivity in the ice, a key piece of information for defining and dating the layers of the ice core.
—Credit: Peter Rejcek, NSF


A researcher operates a planer during a CPL to shave the ice core smooth for electrical conductivity measurements

A researcher operates a planer during a CPL to shave the ice core smooth for electrical conductivity measurements.
—Credit: National Ice Core Laboratory




Researchers cut samples of ice cores that will be sent to labs around the country for chemical analyses

Researchers cut samples of ice cores that will be sent to labs around the country for chemical analyses.
—Credit: Peter Rejcek, NSF

A scientist looks at a thin section of an ice core, analyzing the pattern of individual ice crystals

A scientist looks at a thin section of an ice core, analyzing the pattern of individual ice crystals.
—Credit: Peter Rejcek, NSF

A scientist saws a section of an ice core destined for gas measurements, such as carbon dioxide and methane

A scientist saws a section of an ice core that will be analyzed for its ancient trapped gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane.
—Credit: Peter Rejcek, NSF


Typical CPL cut plan for a large multi-investigator ice coring project such as the WAIS Divide Ice Core Project

Typical CPL cut plan for a large multi-investigator ice coring project such as the WAIS Divide Ice Core project.
—Credit: NICL-Science Management Office

A scientist saws a section of an ice core destined for gas measurements, such as carbon dioxide and methane

Map showing the locations of the universities and laboratories that received samples from the WAIS Divide Ice Core CPLs. The WAIS Divide ice core is 3,405 meters long—the longest U.S. ice core to date—and extends back in time ~68,000 years.
—Credit: Joseph Souney, Univ. New Hampshire



 

Contacts

National Ice Core Laboratory (NICL)

Technical Director
Ms. Betty Adrian
U.S. National Ice Core Laboratory
United States Geological Survey
MS-975, Box 25046, DFC
Denver, CO 80225
Phone: (303) 202-4830
Fax: (303) 202-4856
E-mail: badrian at usgs.gov


Curator
Mr. Geoffrey Hargreaves
U.S. National Ice Core Laboratory
Phone: (303) 202-4830
E-mail: nicl at usgs.gov


Assistant Curator
Mr. Brian Bencivengo
U.S. National Ice Core Laboratory
Phone: (303) 202-4830
E-mail: nicl at usgs.gov


Assistant Curator
Mr. Richard Nunn
U.S. National Ice Core Laboratory
Phone: (303) 202-4830
E-mail: nicl at usgs.gov

NICL - Science Management Office

Science Director
Mr. Mark Twickler
* Interested in samples? Click Here *
Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space
Universty of New Hampshire
Morse Hall, 8 College Road
Durham, NH 03824
Phone: (603) 862-1991
Fax: (603) 862-2124
E-mail: nicl.smo at unh.edu


Assistant Science Director
Mr. Joe Souney
Phone: (603) 862-1991
E-mail: nicl.smo at unh.edu


National Science Foundation

Antarctic Glaciology Program
Dr. Julie Palais
National Science Foundation, Division of Polar Programs
4201 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22230
Phone: (703) 292-8033
Fax: (703) 292-9080
Email: jpalais at nsf.gov




 

Location & Address

NICL is centrally located at the Denver Federal Center, just south of the intersection of Kipling and 6th Avenues in Lakewood, Colorado. The lab's proximity to major transportation corridors and to the Denver International Airport insures timely shipping and handling of ice cores arriving and departing the facility.


Shipping and FedEx Address Mailing Address
National Ice Core Laboratory National Ice Core Laboratory
U.S. Geological Survey MS-975, USGS
One Denver Federal Center Box 25046, DFC
Building 810, Entrance E-11, MS 975 Denver, CO 80225-0046
Denver, CO 80225-0046  
image of forklift image of envelope


Local Area Maps
Denver International Airport to Denver Federal Center
Boulder to Denver Federal Center
Denver Federal Center


 

Lab Tours & Media Policy

NICL supports a variety of outreach activities. The lab is a popular destination for field trips from schools, universities, visiting federal agencies, teachers, museum groups, and interested individuals. As such the NICL tour schedule generally needs to be booked several months in advance. Tours of the NICL facility are provided upon request, dependent on availability.

Our normal hours of operation are 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday. We observe all Federal holidays.


National Ice Core Lab Tour and Media Policy

July 12, 2013

The National Ice Core Lab (NICL), located in Building 810 of the Denver Federal Center, gives facility tours to a multitude of people each year. The NICL hosts many film, TV, radio and print media representatives as well. Outreach is an important component of NICL's mission. We're pleased to have the opportunity to showcase the incredible work done with ice cores at the NICL, as well as to educate visitors about global climate change, and the role that ice cores play in understanding Earth's climate history.

However, the NICL is a working lab - hundreds of national and international scientists come to the NICL to work on ice cores archived at our facility. We also actively participate in the collection of new ice cores from field sites in Antarctica and Greenland. These activities limit the time and personnel available for tours. If you are thinking about paying us a visit at NICL, please observe the following:

  1. All tours and media visits (e.g. film crews) must be scheduled several months in advance by calling (303) 202-4830 or sending an email to nicl at usgs.gov.
  2. Plan to be flexible with your time. We may need to suggest alternate days or times for your visit if we can't accommodate your first choice. There are some time periods during which we cannot conduct tours due to the priorities of other Lab activities, or for safety reasons.
  3. NICL staff cannot accommodate "Drop-ins", or spur-of-the-moment tours. Please plan ahead.