'Doomsday' seed vault latest victim of climate change
Saturday, May 20, 2017, 3:53 PM - When the designers of the popularly-named 'Doomsday' seed vault were building their creation, they meant to protect its precious cargo from whatever disasters might befall human civilization.
Unfortunately, they don't seem to have quite taken into account the slow-moving disaster of climate change. The man-made global warming process isn't a direct threat to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault -- which is based in the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard -- but it has lately been causing the permafrost around it to melt more than expected.
What that means is that the entrance to the tunnel leading to the vault has experienced more flooding than initially planned for, though the organization that runs the vault says the seeds remain perfectly safe. The water froze long before it could reach the stored seed packets, and the facility includes drainage pumps that can handle higher volumes of water.
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The Norwegian government, which owns the vault, told media the increased melting was as a result of higher-than normal temperatures in the region last year.
"It was not in our plans to think that the permafrost would not be there and that it would experience extreme weather like that,” spokesperson Hege Njaa Aschim told Wired.
The surrounding permafrost was actually one of the selling points of the vault. It began operations in 2008, and now hosts around a million seed samples with an eye to preserving mankind's crop diversity and food security. Aside from the permafrost keeping the place cold, its remote location above sea level and deep inside a mountain was considered a safe bet.
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The vault's keepers say they're taking a 'better safe than sorry' approach to the problem, adding drainage ditches and a new waterproof wall in the access tunnel, as well as removing a generator from the site to eliminate a heat source, among other measures. They say the seeds will be secure throughout the upgrade process, set to be complete by 2018.
"The effect of the measures will be continuously assessed in the coming years. If they are not sufficient, further and more extensive measures will be implemented," a release on the vault's website reads.