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What We Do

Advancing knowledge of Earth’s frozen regions since 1976

What We Do

From the Arctic to the Antarctic, snow and ice play a vital role in regulating Earth’s climate and providing freshwater resources to people, plants, and animals. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder), part of the CU Boulder Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), conducts innovative research and provides open data to understand how the frozen parts of Earth affect the rest of the planet and impact society. Research studies and data are primarily focused on the snow, ice, glaciers, frozen ground and climate interactions that make up Earth’s cryosphere.

Through a unique combination of data management and scientific research, NSIDC enables scientists, educators, students, journalists and many others to better understand the cryosphere, why it’s important and how it’s changing. Key areas of NSIDC expertise include:

  • Stewardship and free distribution of scientific data from a broad range of sources including Earth-observing satellites, airborne remote sensing campaigns, field studies and historical observations.
  • Research studies of polar regions, the cryosphere and related climate processes.
  • Scientific analysis and insights on how regions of the cryosphere are changing, as well as educational content about what the cryosphere is and why it matters.
  • Creating software tools to access and work with data as well as providing robust user support to the NSIDC data user community.

In 1976, the World Data Center (WDC) for Glaciology, Boulder, operated at the University of Colorado as an analog archive and information center, essentially a special collection library. It was one of many World Data Centers—now the World Data System. In 1982, NOAA designated data activities of the WDC for Glaciology, Boulder as the National Snow and Ice Data Center and an affiliate of other NOAA data centers. NSIDC and the WDC for Glaciology, Boulder, operated concurrently. NSIDC became part of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at CU Boulder. CIRES functions as a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder, and is home to hundreds of environmental scientists working to understand the dynamic Earth system, including people's relationship with the planet.

Throughout its history, NSIDC has specialized in data management and scientific research of Earth’s frozen regions, otherwise known as the cryosphere. NSIDC research scientists and data experts work with scientists within CIRES as well as collaborators across the world to publish research that advances understanding of how the cryosphere impacts local, regional and global environments and the human relationship with those environments. NSIDC scientists and data experts also work together to provide relevant, high impact data to the cryospheric science community and beyond.

Our purpose

NSIDC contributes to climate change solutions, thereby positively impacting the future of humanity’s relationship with the planet.

Our mission

NSIDC is the authoritative data management and science center for cryospheric data and research. We advance understanding of Earth’s frozen regions and the changes taking place to inform decision-making, in service to humanity and Earth.

Our vision

NSIDC makes a positive difference in the future of humanity and the planet as the trusted go-to organization for Earth science data and information, particularly with respect to Earth’s frozen realms.

Data management

NSIDC data management programs are primarily focused on preserving, documenting and providing access to cryospheric data and related geophysical data. In addition to managing and storing scientific data for government agencies and organizations, NSIDC works with data producers and users to create and publish tools and resources that make the data more accessible. 

NSIDC data collections include:

  • Cryosphere-related data from Earth-observing satellite missions, airborne surveys, field observations, weather stations, historical records, and data rescue projects. 
  • Data produced by NSIDC scientists and other researchers in the cryospheric sciences.
  • Indigenous Knowledge and observations from Arctic regions that are documented and shared in an ethical manner to support community goals for data sharing, use and preservation. 

NSIDC is also a CoreTrustSeal-certified Regular Member of the World Data System (WDS), signifying that NSIDC provides reliable, high-quality data services. CoreTrustSeal is an international, community based, non-governmental and non-profit organization that identifies sustainable and trustworthy data infrastructures through a rigorous certification process.

NSIDC operates three core data management programs:

NASA National Snow and Ice Data Center Distributed Active Archive Center (NSIDC DAAC)

NSIDC has managed the NASA National Snow and Ice Data Center Distributed Active Archive Center (NSIDC DAAC) since 1993, archiving and distributing cryospheric and related geophysical data from NASA Earth-observing satellite missions, airborne campaigns and field observations. The NSIDC DAAC provides hundreds of free and open-access NASA Earth science data sets, detailed data documentation, data tools, resources and tutorials, as well as  robust data user support services.

NOAA@NSIDC

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) program at NSIDC provides free and open-access data about Earth's frozen regions. NOAA@NSIDC provides over 90 data sets, including current and historical sea ice conditions, decades-long records of snow extent, and historical glacier photographs. Data come from multiple sources: satellites, in situ observations, operational records, rescued data and even historical records such as declassified Cold War submarine observations of the Arctic.

Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic (ELOKA)

NSIDC recognizes that Indigenous peoples living in the Arctic have knowledge that is integral to observing and understanding environmental change in the Arctic. Their knowledge and observations complement satellite and instrument data to help paint a comprehensive picture of how dynamic Arctic systems intersect with and support human and community well-being. 

The Exchange for Local Observations and Knowledge of the Arctic (ELOKA) program at NSIDC fosters collaboration between resident Arctic experts and Indigenous communities and visiting researchers to create online products that facilitate the collection, preservation, exchange, and use of local observations and Indigenous Knowledge of the Arctic. The data management and user support that ELOKA provides to Indigenous communities focuses on ensuring their data and knowledge are managed, visualized, and shared in an ethical manner to work toward information and data sovereignty for Arctic residents. ELOKA is generously funded by the National Science Foundation.

Scientific research

NSIDC strives to be an epicenter of cryosphere research and knowledge. Core initiatives of NSIDC research include:

  • Working closely with the broader CU Boulder research community and others to lead cutting edge, multidisciplinary and impactful cryospheric research that serves societal needs. 
  • Mentoring the next generation of scientists while studying a broad range of topics including remote sensing of snow and ice, Arctic climate, frozen ground, ice sheets, glaciers and more.  
  • Collaborating with NSIDC data management teams and software developers to create innovative data products, tools and analyses to better study the cryosphere.

NSIDC researchers also share a passion for educating students, the greater science community and general public about their research and insights on a rapidly-changing cryosphere. In addition to publishing peer-reviewed research studies, NSIDC scientists regularly post easy-to-read scientific analyses on how the cryosphere is changing and what might be driving those changes, as well as educational content about what the cryosphere is, what it does and why it matters. Explore NSIDC analyses and learning resources: