The National Ice Core Research Facility

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Our future – our culture, communities, environment, economy and infrastructure – relies on an accurate assessment of climate and environmental change and its impacts on how and where we live.

The focus of the National Ice Core Research Programme is to advance our understanding of climate change and improve future projections.

The work we do provides significant input into the global response to climate change, it helps inform government policies and responses to our changing environment and contributes to the development of innovative social and technological solutions.

The National Ice Core Facility is a joint venture between GNS, Victoria University of Wellington and the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).

The facility operates under the umbrella of the Joint Antarctic Research Institute.

Our Expertise

Ice core records have revolutionised our understanding of climate change drivers, thresholds and feedbacks, allowing us to quantify and predict anthropogenic (human-induced) impacts.

As snow crystals fall on vast polar ice sheets or mountain glaciers, they capture detailed information about the environmental and climate conditions at the time. As the snow continues to accumulate, turning into firn and finally into ice under its own weight, it preserves these insightful archives of past conditions.

Ever-evolving analytical measurements turn the ice, air bubbles and particles into detailed records of air and ocean temperatures, atmospheric circulation pattern, the ferocity of storms, changes in snow accumulation, sea ice changes, marine primary productivity, a comprehensive inventory of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration, baselines to assess anthropogenic pollution, volcanic eruptions, and low and mid-latitude forest fires.

 Ice cores recovered from deep Antarctic ice sheets revealed continuous records reaching hundreds of thousands of years into the past, informing future projections of climate change impacts.

Our Equipment (National Ice Core Facility)

The National Ice Core Facility is a state-of-the-art, purpose-built cold storage and research centre, which houses an ultra-clean lab at ambient temperature, a working freezer at -18°C and two storage freezers at -35°C.

We currently store 2,000m of Antarctic, and 300m of NZ ice cores. Only few such facilities exist worldwide, connected through the collaboration within the International Partnerships of Ice Coring Sciences (IPICS(external link)).

Analytical capabilities within the facility are jointly provided by GNS and Victoria University of Wellington.

Our Equipment (Ultra-clean Laboratory)

Continuous Melter System: used to measure ice core properties in real-time. Such measurements are usually done in collaboration with our national and international partners and carried out in campaigns with staff and students joining our facility with their instrumentation to process hundreds of meters of core. The New Zealand continuous flow melter system routinely measures stable isotopes (d18O, dD, d17O and dexcess) and collects discreet samples for major ion and trace elements. With partners, we also measure in continuous flow mode black carbon, particulates, some geochemical measurements (pH, Ca, conductivity) and methane.

Water isotopes: The facility uses a continuous-flow laser spectroscopy system with an off-axis integrated cavity output spectroscopy (OA-ICOS) analyser, manufactured by Los Gatos Research (LGR) to measure dD, d18O, d17O and dexcess.

Major Ions: We use a Thermo Scientific Dionex ICS 5000 system, operated in analytical configuration with concurrent anion and cation exchange chromatography using 2ml columns and eluent strength of 20 millimolar (mM) MSA on the cation side and a gradient strength ranging from 20 mM to 40 mM potassium hydroxide (KOH) on the anion side. We routinely measure ice core samples with concentration of low (5-200) parts per billion concentration, some ions even at parts per trillion levels.

Physical properties: To investigate crystal and bubble size, we use a Nikon Eclipse 50i microscope fitted with a camera head, and a 4X magnification objective lens, resulting in images with a resolution of 1 μm/pixel.

Electric Conductivity Measurements: We use an Icefield digital ECM to measure ice conductivity.

Ultra-clean water system: The facility uses a Thermo Fisher Millipore Mill-Q Integral Water Purification System with a Q-Pod.

Roosevelt Island Ice Core Drilling

Nancy Bertler describes an ice core drilling expedition to the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica for the Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution (RICE) project

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Ice core sample

New Zealand’s Intermediate Depth Ice Core Drill

As one of three such operating drilling systems worldwide, the New Zealand intermediate depth ice core drilling system, or Te Wāmua Hukapapa (“Ice Cores That Discover the Past”), is used to recover ice core records from Antarctica. The drill system, developed and owned by the Antarctic Research Centre at Victoria University of Wellington, is based on the Danish Hans Tausen Drill with some design modification and has a reach of up to 1,000 m.

Antarctic Ice Core Drilling

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Ice core drill

Our Location

The New Zealand Ice Core Research Facility is located within the National Isotope Centre (NIC) in Gracefield, Wellington.

Our team

The New Zealand Ice Core Facility boasts a multidisciplinary team of 16, led by Lead Scientist, Nancy Bertler with Lab Manager Rebecca Pyne.

Melting Ice and Rising Seas

  • Our National and International Partnerships

    We work in partnership with national and international researchers and facilities. We are leading the 9-nation Roosevelt Island Climate Evolution (RICE)(external link) Project. We are also engaged by government agencies and international policymakers.

    We are a key part of the global network of ice core scientists, researchers and facilities. We gain and share knowledge with:

    • Antarctic Research Centre, Victoria University of Wellington
    • Antarctica New Zealand
    • Webster Drilling and Exploration Ltd, New Zealand
    • Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, USA
    • Alfred Wegener Institute, Germany
    • Centre for Ice and Climate, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen,
    • Earth and Space Sciences, University of Washington, USA
    • Geosciences, Oregon State University, USA
    • College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, Oregon State University
    • Climate-Ocean-Atmosphere Program, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego
    • Geology and Environmental Geosciences, Northern Illinois University
    • Earth Sciences, Dartmouth College, USA
    • School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences, Stanford University, USA
    • Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University
    • Quaternary Research Center, University of Washington, U.S.A.
    • University Milano-Bicocca
    • British Antarctic Survey
    • Swedish Museum of Natural History
    • Department of Environment and Geography - Environmental Science, MacQuarie University
    • Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales
    • International Centre for Terrestrial Antarctic Research (ICTAR), University of Waikato
    • Chinese Academy of Sciences
    • Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences


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