Published: Thu, May 25, 2017
Research | By Chelsea Rogers

Arctic stronghold of world's seeds flooded after permafrost melts

Arctic stronghold of world's seeds flooded after permafrost melts

According to the latest reports, the rising global temperatures caused the deep permafrost - which was actually seen as a protective shield - to melt, thereby flooding the vault.

Doomsday Seed Vault or The Global Seed Vault, which was created to preserve the agriculture seeds in case of a doomsday scenario, has been breached by the melting water from the Arctic permafrost. Carved into the side of a mountain, the vault holds more than 500 million seeds from around the globe that could be used to recreate food supplies.

Soaring temperatures in the Arctic at the end of the world's hottest ever recorded year led to melting and heavy rain, when light snow should have been falling. Fortunately, we are safe; the valuable seeds are on now required storage temperature i.e. -18 °C. But the breach has raised questions about the the vault's ability to survive disasters.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But he says the Earth is warming, and that is affecting all of us, including the seed vault. The Arctic has been undergoing extreme warming in the past decades due to climate change, leading to melting icecaps, thus the meltwater problem. Designers have to be careful when building in the Arctic because permafrost melt can make buildings unstable.

"Statsbygg is now implementing measures that will continue to protect the seed vault in the future", The Crop Trust, which runs the vault in partnership with Norway's government, said in a statement.

Fowler insists that based on his team's studies, if all the world's ice melted, and the world's biggest tsunami occurred in front of the vault it would still be sitting around five to seven stories above the action. "The vault provides a last resort back-up to a network of seed banks around the world, which store seeds but can be threatened by war, accidents and natural disasters". This picture from inside the vault shows the shelves with the boxes holding the seed samples.

Boxes with seeds from around the world are saved for posterity in the seed vault in Svalbard
Boxes with seeds from around the world are saved for posterity in the seed vault in Svalbard

Hege Njaa Aschim, a spokesperson for the Norwegian government which owns the vault, told that "the seeds and the vault itself was never at risk", but they do not want water even at the entrance and are working on minimizing this risk.

Because the vault's interior is kept at subzero temperatures, the water only leaked into its entrance before freezing, and none of the almost one million packets of seeds were harmed, the Guardian also said.

"We have to find solutions", Aschim told the Guardian. The people behind the seed vault's perspective were not prepared for that when they built it in 2008.

But the fact the vault should operate neatly without human intervention means any threats need to be taken seriously.

We've made a tunnel inside of a mountain to where it's very cold. It's the ultimate failsafe if the world's farms burn or diseases decimate our staples and we have to start over.

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