Photo of the inside of the NICL facility showing the storage of ice cores

NICL Use and Ice Core Sample Allocation Policy

National Ice Core Laboratory (NICL)
Denver Federal Center, Lakewood, Colorado
Revised: November 2016

* All use of NICL requires the submission of the SAMPLE REQUEST/FACILITY USE FORM. *




The U.S. National Ice Core Laboratory (NICL) is a government-owned facility on the grounds of the Denver Federal Center. NICL provides approximately 50,600 cubic feet of safeguarded freezer space, which is maintained at a temperature of -36°C for the storage of ice cores collected from the polar ice sheets and glaciers from around the world. NICL currently contains approximately 19,000 meters of ice cores collected mostly by scientists funded by the National Science Foundation. NICL also includes a series of cold examination rooms, staging and changing areas, as well as instruments and equipment for routine examination and processing of ice cores.

The National Science Foundation supports 100% of NICL's operating cost through an Interagency Agreement with the U.S. Geological Survey.

This policy, developed by the Ice Core Working Group (ICWG) (a group of scientist who discuss scientific issues related to ice cores), establishes the policy for use of the NICL facility and allocation of samples stored at NICL.


General Provisions

NICL's scientific objectives are to (1) ensure maximum availability of samples to approved investigators, (2) encourage analysis over a wide range of research disciplines without unnecessary duplication, and (3) encourage prompt publication of results.

Decisions on sample allocation are coordinated by the NICL-Science Management Office (NICL-SMO) and reviewed and approved by the Sample Allocation Committee (SAC), appointed by the ICWG, with final approval from NSF-PLR. The Science Director of NICL-SMO is the central point of contact for requests for ice core samples. Once a decision has been made to allocate samples to an investigator, the NICL staff will assist investigators in accessing the ice core samples and making arrangements for transportation – at the investigator's expense – of samples to home institutions, or for analyses to be performed at NICL.


Sample Requests

Requests for samples from NICL are coordinated through the NICL-SMO. Samples are available to any qualified investigator, but NSF funded investigators may be given priority to certain core sections.

Investigators interested in requesting samples from the NICL ice core archive must complete the SAMPLE REQUEST/FACILITY USE FORM and email it to NICL-SMO at least four weeks in advance of the proposal submission deadline.

Generally there are three types of requests: pilot studies, funded proposals, and de-accessed ice.

Pilot Studies

A limited number of samples are available to qualified investigators for use in pilot studies. Submission of the SAMPLE REQUEST/FACILITY USE FORM is required. This request is sent to NICL-SMO for review by the SAC and NSF.

Proposals Requiring Ice from NICL

All investigators (including NSF and non-NSF) interested in requesting samples from the NICL ice core archive must complete the SAMPLE REQUEST/FACILITY USE FORM and email it to NICL-SMO at least four weeks in advance of the proposal submission deadline. This will help ensure availability of samples after the review process. The Science Director will review the request. The information in the request will be kept confidential. If the Science Director approves the request, the NICL-SMO will provide you with a letter of 'sample availability', which must be included in your proposal.

If the proposal is funded, the PI must contact the NICL-SMO at least four weeks prior to their expected NICL sample visit to obtain a sample allocation grant. Four weeks are needed for the Science Director to obtain the appropriate SAC/NSF approvals for your proposed sample allocation. NICL cannot release any core or allow any core to be cut without the appropriate sample allocation verification from the NICL-SMO. Contact the NICL Science Director, Mark Twickler, at 603-862-1991 or nicl.smo at to begin the allocation process. Once access to the core has been granted, the PI can call 303-202-4830 or e-mail nicl at to schedule a site visit.

De-accession Ice

The ICWG has selected a group of ice cores that have been placed on a de-accession list. These ice cores are generally older cores that have received minimal scientific interest in the last 15 years. These cores are available to any qualified investigator for testing analytical procedures, method development, outreach activities and other scientific studies. The procedure for obtaining de-accessed core is the same as for Pilot Studies. Contact the Science Director for assistance in finding the de-accessed core(s) that best fits your needs.

Additional Information/ Requirements

Once the SAC and NSF have approved a request, the Science Director will notify the requesting investigator. The investigator should then contact the NICL Curator to arrange for a visit to NICL to work on samples or to arrange for transport of samples to their home institution (at the investigator's expense).

Data derived from measurement and analysis of all samples from NICL must be archived at an appropriate data center, as described in the NSF-PLR data policy.

Subsequent sample requests for the same investigation must include an updated SAMPLE REQUEST/FACILITY USE FORM that describes progress of the study, the need for additional samples, and the status of previous samples. Approval of an initial request does not constitute approval for subsequent access to the core collection. New requests by the same applicant or group will be honored when results from previous requests have been published as research papers in scientific journals or research reports, or when the data is archived at an NSF-PLR approved data center. Any conflicts between NICL, NICL-SMO and the investigator will be referred to the National Science Foundation Division of Polar Programs (PLR).

If any work is done on samples in addition to, or different than, that stated in the original SAMPLE REQUEST/FACILITY USE FORM, the Science Director must be notified. To prevent duplicative efforts, recipients of samples cannot perform research that differs substantially from the project's originally proposed sample request without first obtaining permission and approval from NICL-SMO via the SAC/NSF. Samples cannot be transferred to other investigators without prior approval from NICL-SMO. Any unused samples or portions of cores must be returned to NICL for re-archiving. The objective of this provision is not to restrict research; on the contrary, the objective is to ensure the best possible use of the samples and to ensure that NICL-SMO/SAC/NSF are fully informed as to their use and disposition.

Investigators who simply wish to make a brief examination of specific cores – without sampling or conducting analyses – may apply informally to the Science Director, but are still required to submit a completed SAMPLE REQUEST/FACILITY USE FORM.


Investigator Responsibilities

  1. Prompt publication of significant results, with acknowledgment to the National Science Foundation and the National Ice Core Laboratory as the source of materials.
  2. Submittal of information resulting from samples obtained from NICL in your NSF annual report.
  3. Notification to the Science Director of any significant change in the research plan described in the original request.
  4. Data derived from material from NICL must be archived at an established data center in accordance to the NSF-PLR data policy.


Storage of Ice Cores at NICL

Ice cores from glaciers and ice sheets obtained through NSF-funded programs may be accepted for storage at NICL. Investigators must contact the Science Director during the planning stages of a project – prior to proposal submission – for possible permission to ship ice cores to NICL.

Investigators interested in storing new ice cores at NICL must complete the SAMPLE REQUEST/FACILITY USE FORM and submit it to NICL-SMO at least four weeks in advance of the proposal submission deadline.

Only ice cores comprised of meteoric ice are authorized for storage at NICL. No sea ice, permafrost, or sediment cores are permitted in the NICL facility.

Conditions of the Principal Investigator's proprietary rights to the core must be established when an investigator first contacts the NICL-SMO asking permission to store ice cores at NICL. NICL-SMO realizes that investigators – either individually or in collaborative groups – may want proprietary access to a core obtained by them for a limited, but defined, period of time following acquisition of the core. The conditions of the proprietary access – including the duration of the period of proprietary access – should be established at the stage of proposal submission, so that it can be reviewed during the peer review process of the proposal. For cores from NSF-funded programs, the Principal Investigator should establish these conditions, with the concurrence of the NICL-SMO. NICL will accept cores with proprietary rights attached under these circumstances.


Use of NICL (Scientific / Media / Outreach)

Investigators interested in using the NICL facility for core processing, laboratory work, or media and outreach activities must complete the SAMPLE REQUEST/FACILITY USE FORM and submit it to NICL-SMO at least four weeks in advance of deadlines.

Multi-investigator projects should designate a single point of contact that will work with NICL-SMO and NICL.

Investigators funded by agencies other than NSF who wish to use NICL must contact the NICL-SMO prior to proposal submission to obtain permission to use the facility. Use includes – but is not limited to – storage of ice cores or samples, use of NICL workspace, use of NICL staff time, or use of any other NICL resources. The NICL-SMO will work with the investigator and NICL staff to determine the scope of work and provide a cost estimate, if needed. These costs may be incurred by the agency funding the work and must be negotiated in advance of access to the facility.


Dissemination of Information

Computerized records of all information available on archived cores (handling, distribution, sub sampling, analytical results, location of core in storage) are available to visiting scientists at NICL on a Data Management System.