About Ice Cores
NICL - What We Do
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.
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.
Examination & Core Processing
In addition to the main archive freezer, NICL also has an exam room held at -25°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 -25°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 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
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
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