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Found in Colorado: A look inside the world's largest ice core repository

Posted at 3:59 PM, Jun 18, 2024

LAKEWOOD — Since 1993, the Denver Federal Center in Lakewood has played host to the National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility (NSF-ICF); lauded as the largest repository for drilled ice in the world, this establishment's immense freezer provides a glimpse back into the distant past.

The facility's freezer measures a total of 55,000 cubic feet, is kept at -38 Celsius, and contains approximately 25,000 meters of meteoric ice cores (ice formed by precipitation over time) recovered from Antarctica, Greenland, and portions of North America.

Attached to this gargantuan freezer is an examination/workspace kept at approximately -26 Celsius which allows for the cutting and packaging of ice cores to be shipped off for scientific study.

The National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility (NSF-ICF) — formerly 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 in storage, some of which are kilometers in length, provide scientists, universities, and research facilities with a window to the past several thousand (or even several hundred thousand) years of our planet's atmospheric conditions.

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 understand the mechanisms by which climate change is accomplished, and in so doing, they hope to develop predictive capabilities for future climate change.

The NSF-ICF is breaking ground on a new storage facility during the summer of 2024 (still within the Denver Federal Center) in anticipation of continuing to grow its ice core repository and provide ongoing storage and curation services.

Interested in seeing the Ice Core Facility? The NSF-ICF offers tours to museums, education facilities, universities, and other interested parties; however, their website indicates that these generally need to be booked months in advance.

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