NICL Use and Accessing Ice Cores

NICL currently stores over 17,000 meters of ice core collected from various locations in Antarctica, Greenland, and North America
NICL currently stores over 17,000 meters of ice core collected from various locations in Antarctica, Greenland, and North America. —Credit: National Ice Core Laboratory, NSF/USGS

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 -35 degrees C for the storage of ice cores collected from the polar ice sheets and glaciers from around the world. NICL currently contains approximately 17,000 meters of ice cores collected mostly by scientists funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that are available for study. 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 NSF supports the majority of the costs of operating NICL, in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey-Geological Division. Requests for samples from NICL are coordinated through the NICL-Science Management Office (NICL-SMO). Samples are available to any qualified investigator, but NSF funded investigators may be given priority to certain ice core sections. Decisions on sample allocation are coordinated by the NICL-SMO and made by the Sample Allocation Committee, appointed by the Ice Core Working Group, with final approval from NSF-OPP. The Scientific Coordinator of NICL-SMO, Mark Twickler, is the central point of contact for requests for ice core samples.

Investigators interested in obtaining samples from NICL or using the NICL facility are required to familiarize themselves with the NICL Use and Ice Core Sample Allocation Policy, located on the NICL-SMO website at The following is an overview of the guidelines for accessing NICL ice cores, storing ice cores at NICL, and using the NICL facility.

Questions should be addressed to the NICL-SMO Scientific Coordinator (Mark Twickler; 603.862.1991; ).

Accessing Ice Cores

Two steps must be followed before scientists are granted access to the ice cores at NICL.

Step 1:
Scientists interested in obtaining ice from NICL must contact the NICL-SMO located at the University of New Hampshire and obtain a core grant. NICL is not authorized to release any ice core, nor to cut any archived ice core, without prior approval by the NICL-SMO. Investigators must contact the NICL-SMO Scientific Coordinator at least three weeks before submitting a proposal to a funding agency and must include details of expected usage of the NICL facility in the proposal. In order to initiate the core grant process, contact Mark Twickler at 603-862-1991 or Before contacting NICL-SMO, scientists should first read and become familiar with the NICL Use and Ice Core Sample Allocation Policy (see website address above). Non-U.S. scientists and non-NSF funded scientists may be required to have an NSF funded collaborator before they can be given access to certain ice cores.

Step 2:
Once access has been granted by the NICL-SMO, the scientist can call 303-202-4830 or email to schedule a sample visit at NICL.

Storage of Ice Cores at NICL

Ice cores from glaciers and ice sheets obtained through NSF and USGS-funded programs will be accepted for storage at NICL. Investigators must contact the NICL-SMO during the planning stages of a project when the proposal is being submitted to obtain permission to ship their cores to NICL if the proposal is funded. Only ice cores made of meteoric ice are authorized for storage at NICL. No sea ice cores or permafrost 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 NICL to ask permission to store ice cores there. NICL expects that investigators, either individually or in groups, may want exclusive access to a core obtained by them for a limited but defined period of time following acquisition of the core. The conditions of these exclusive rights (including the duration of the period of exclusive access) should be established at the stage of proposal funding, so that the conditions may be considered as part of the peer-review process. For cores from NSF-funded programs, the program supporting the work, with the concurrence of the Scientific Coordinator, should establish these conditions. NICL will accept cores with proprietary rights attached under these circumstances.

Use of NICL

The NSF and USGS support NICL. Investigators funded by these agencies may access the facility's resources. Investigators must contact the Scientific Coordinator at least three weeks prior to submitting a proposal to the funding agency, and must include details of expected usage of the NICL facility in the proposal. Multi-investigator projects should designate a single point of contact who will work with the Scientific Coordinator and NICL.

Investigators funded by agencies other than NSF and USGS wishing to use NICL must contact the Scientific Coordinator prior to proposal submission to obtain permission to use the facility and work out details with NSF and USGS. Use includes but is not limited to storage of ice cores or samples, use of NICL workspace, use of staff time or other resources. The Scientific Coordinator will work with the investigator and NICL staff to determine the scope of work and provide a cost estimate. These costs will be born by the agency funding the work and must be negotiated in advance of access to the facility.

Please note: These are not new policies, just a reminder about existing policies.