Doomsday Seed Vault Breached by Floodwaters

Kamie Berry | June 3rd, 2017

The Svalbard doomsday seed vault on the island of Spitsbergen in Norway was designed to protect a supply of seeds in case a global catastrophe threatened the world’s food supply. It is buried in an underground vault in the Arctic circle and contains nearly one million packets of important food crop seeds. Its location, deep in the permafrost, was supposed to be impregnable to both man-made and natural disasters. It appears that climate change may be challenging that belief.

The seed vault has been breached due to extraordinarily high Arctic temperatures last year. This led to severe melting of the permafrost layer that surrounds the vault. It also caused heavy rains to fall instead of the snow that would have been expected. The melting and the flooding sent water flooding into the entrance tunnel of the vault.

The floodwaters that entered the tunnel froze into ice, forming a glacier-like mass at the entrance. The only good news is that the water did not manage to penetrate the vault where the seeds are held, so they are safe for now. Workers have also managed to remove the ice from the entrance tunnel.

Naturally, this breach has made scientists question the long-term survival prospects of the vault. It was originally meant to be able to sustain itself without regular human intervention, but now the precious seed vault must be monitored 24 hours a day to ensure its survival.

To protect the vault, its guardians are undertaking improvement works. They have removed heat-producing electrical equipment from the tunnel and are working on a way to waterproof it. They have also begun to dig channels in the nearby mountains that will help funnel water away from the vault. Pumps have also been installed in the seed vault area.

If temperatures continue to escalate, though, these precautions may not be enough to save the vault. Climate scientists hope that last year’s extreme temperatures are a one-time occurrence, or that they are rare. Given the worldwide trend of escalating temperatures year over year during the past few decades, though, they fear that the problem will only escalate. Because the Arctic warms up faster than the rest of the planet, this could eventually mean that the seed vault will have to be moved if it is to be maintained. The future of humanity may depend on its survival.

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