Podcast: National Ice Core Lab
The Atlas Obscura Podcast

IN THIS EPISODE OF THE ATLAS OBSCURA PODCAST, we learn how scientists in Denver, Colorado, store and conduct tests on miles of ice core samples dating back hundreds of thousands of years.

A recent reversal in the response of western Greenland’s ice caps to climate change
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Research suggests some ice caps grew during past periods of warming

Woods Hole, MA – Greenland may be best known for its enormous continental scale ice sheet that soars up to 3,000 meters above sea level, whose rapid melting is a leading contributor to global sea level rise. But surrounding this massive ice sheet, which covers 79% of the world’s largest island, is Greenland’s rugged coastline dotted with ice capped mountainous peaks. These peripheral glaciers and ice caps are now also undergoing severe melting due to anthropogenic (human-caused) warming. However, climate warming and the loss of these ice caps may not have always gone hand-in-hand.

Cores 3.0: Future-proofing Earth sciences’ historical records
Jane Palmer, Eos

In September 2013, a major storm dumped a year’s worth of rain on the city of Boulder, Colo., in just 2 days. Walls of water rushed down the mountainsides into Boulder Creek, causing it to burst its banks and flood nearby streets and buildings.

Instead of trying to escape the flood, Tyler Jones, a biogeochemist at the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) in Boulder, drove directly toward it. His motive? Mere meters from the overflowing creek, a large freezer housed the lab’s collection of precious ice cores.

Ancient Rome Was Teetering. Then a Volcano Erupted 6,000 Miles Away.
Katherine Kornei, The New York Times

[NSF-ICF NOTE: Tephra from the GISP2 ice core was used in this research.]

Chaos and conflict roiled the Mediterranean in the first century B.C. Against a backdrop of famine, disease and the assassinations of Julius Caesar and other political leaders, the Roman Republic collapsed, and the Roman Empire rose in its place. Tumultuous social unrest no doubt contributed to that transition — politics can unhinge a society. But so can something arguably more powerful.

Scientists on Monday announced evidence that a volcanic eruption in the remote Aleutian Islands, 6,000 miles away from the Italian peninsula, contributed to the demise of the Roman Republic. That eruption — and others before it and since — played a role in changing the course of history.

CWU Researchers Study Regional Pollution Using Ice Core from the North Cascades
Robert Lowery, Public Affairs, Central Washington University

Using ice core samples retrieved from the South Cascade Glacier, CWU researchers have been able to reconstruct black carbon concentrations in the atmosphere spanning the period 1840-1991. Ice cores provide invaluable information that is used to determine past climate and environmental conditions.

This Lakewood Warehouse Stores Secrets Older Than Civilization Itself: A 2.5-million-year-old piece of ice arrives at the National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility this month
5280, Jesse Klein

The National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility holds records so old, they make those at the Library of Congress, the University of Cambridge, and the Vatican Apostolic Archive seem like new releases. Instead of manuscripts, though, the “documents” at this U.S. Geological Survey–managed warehouse in Lakewood, the only one of its kind in the country, are archaic pieces of frozen matter. Scientists drill the samples, called ice cores, from deep within glaciers and ship them to this facility, where they’re stored in meter-long chunks at minus 36 degrees Celsius.

Climate change answers in ice: Inside Colorado’s ice core lab
Denver7, Jason Gruenauer

LAKEWOOD, Colo. — History and science are sitting inside a giant freezer at the Denver Federal Center. The National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility is home to tens of thousands of ice cores, drilled from Antarctica and Greenland, for scientists to research.

“This is the only facility like this in the United States. It basically acts as the central repository for all the ice cores drilled as part of the U.S. polar program,” Richard Nunn, the facility’s assistant curator, told Denver7.

International Partnerships in Ice Core Sciences (IPICS) 3rd Open Science Conference
NSF-ICF Science Management Office

The International Partnerships in Ice Core Sciences (IPICS) will hold its 3rd Open Science Conference on 18-23 October 2020 in Crans-Montana, Switzerland.

Ice cores provide information about past climate and environmental conditions as well as direct records of the composition of the atmosphere on timescales from decades to hundreds of millennia. With the pioneering work of Hans Oeschger of University of Bern on carbon dioxide in polar ice cores, a long tradition of ice core research in Switzerland began. Less known is that Hans Oeschger also initiated a high-alpine drilling project on Colle Gnifetti in Switzerland in the 1970s. To acknowledge Hans Oeschger’s important contribution to these two ice core fields and to foster the link between the corresponding communities the theme of the conference is Ice Core Science at the three Poles.

The coldest place on Earth: Front Range artist captures ‘The Colors of Ice’ at ice core facility in Lakewood
Boulder Weekly, Jenna Sampson

Dirk Hobman wants to take people on a journey through time, drilling down through frigid layers of history, past the era of the first Homo sapiens, to 200,000 years ago. That’s where his work begins.

Merging his backgrounds in ecology and photography, Hobman tells stories of the natural world. His most recent project, “The Color of Ice,” takes viewers into the frozen annals of ice cores, turning them into colorful masterpieces of paleoclimatology. The project hinged on his ability to sell the idea to the archive at the National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility in Lakewood.

Fall 2017 In-Depth Newsletter Now Available

The Fall 2017 In-Depth newsletter from the National Ice Core Laboratory-Science Management Office (NICL-SMO) is now available online at

In the Fall 2017 issue:

Icy air reveals human-made methane levels higher than previously believed
:: Lindsey Valich, University of Rochester

A summer job in sub-zero temperatures
:: Ula Chrobak, CU Boulder Today

Massive Antarctic volcanic eruptions linked to abrupt southern hemisphere climate changes near the end of the last ice age
:: Joe McConnell, Roger Kreidberg, and Justin Broglio, Desert Research Institute

Dr. Julie Palais awarded Richardson Medal
:: International Glaciological Society

LC-130 Skibird aircrews train for polar operations
:: Air Force Master Sgt. Catherine Schmidt, 109th Airlift Wing, U.S. Department of Defense News

109th takes off to support 30th ODF season
:: Staff Sgt. Stephanie J. Lambert, 109th AW Public Affairs, 109th Airlift Wing News

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