“Built to insure the world’s crop collection, the vault was once thought to be indestructible. But in recent years, temperatures throughout Svalbard have been rising three times faster than the global average and rainfall has intensified, according to a new report by the Norwegian Environmental Agency.
By the end of the century, temperatures across the islands could rise as much as 10 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, which is five times higher than the absolute limit recommended by the Paris climate agreement.”
‘We Can’t Trust the Permafrost Anymore’: Doomsday Vault at Risk in Norway
Just over a decade after it first opened, the world’s “doomsday vault” of seeds is imperiled by climate change as the polar region where it’s located warms faster than any other area on the planet.
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, which opened in late February 2008, was built by the organization Crop Trust and the Norwegian government on the island of Svalbard next to the northernmost town in the world with more than 1,000 residents, Longyearbyen.
“Svalbard is the ultimate failsafe for biodiversity of crops,” said Crop Trust executive director Marie Haga.
Northern temperatures and environment on the island were a major reason for the construction. According to in-depth reporting from CNN, the project planners hoped that the permafrost around the construction of the underground vault would, in time, refreeze. But the planet has other plans.
Longyearbyen and, by extension, the vault, is warming more rapidly than the rest of the planet. That’s because the polar regions of Earth—the coldest areas on the planet—are less able to reflect sunlight away from the polar seas due to disappearing ice and snow cover.
‘Doomsday vault’ town warming faster than any other on Earth
It’s an ironic turn of events for the creators of the vault, who chose the location for the vault “because the area is not prone to volcanoes or earthquakes, while the Norwegian political system is also extremely stable,'” said CNN.
Because of the warming, the permafrost around the underground vault’s tunnel entrance has not refrozen. That led to leaking water in the tunnel in October 2016, which then froze into ice.
In response, CNN reported, “Statsbygg [the Norwegian state agency in charge of real estate] undertook 100 million Norwegian krone ($11.7 million) of reconstruction work, more than double the original cost of the structure.”
But the warming now may become unsustainable for the structure. It’s already forcing changes to Longyearbyen’s population of 2,144 as the people in the town find themselves scrambling to avoid avalanches and deal with a changing climate that’s more often dumping rain rather than snow.
“We can’t trust the permafrost anymore,” said Statsbygg communications manager Hege Njaa Aschim.
British advocacy group Global Citizen was more to the point.
“Not good,” the group tweeted.
From Global Citizen: Temperatures Near So-Called ‘Doomsday Vault’ Are Rising 3 Times Faster Than Rest of World
And why you should stop calling the Global Seed Vault the “doomsday vault.”
As climate change accelerates around the world, agricultural systems are facing unprecedented challenges, even as demand for food increases. The United Nations’ Global Goals call on countries to develop sustainable systems of food production. You can join us in taking action on this issue here.
Embedded within a mountain not far from the Arctic Circle, accessible only by a water-proof concrete tunnel, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago holds nearly 1 million seeds.
Magnus Bredeli-Pveiten, project manager for the Svalbard Global Seed Vault Monday Feb. 25, 2008 is seen at the vault in Longyearbyen, Norway.
Built to insure the world’s crop collection, the vault was once thought to be indestructible. But in recent years, temperatures throughout Svalbard have been rising three times faster than the global average and rainfall has intensified, according to a new report by the Norwegian Environmental Agency.
By the end of the century, temperatures across the islands could rise as much as 10 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels, which is five times higher than the absolute limit recommended by the Paris climate agreement.
The rising temperatures have caused the permafrost surrounding the vault to melt. In 2016, heavy rain and melting permafrost flooded the vault’s entrance, forcing the organizations overseeing the seed bank to overhaul its design.
“The permafrost is not to be trusted anymore,” said Hege Njaa Aschim, communications manager for Statsbygg, which oversees the vault’s infrastructure. “It’s not like rock, like it used to be — it’s like soil.
“We had to change the tunnel into a concrete waterproof tunnel,” she told Global Citizen. “We had to change all the soil, and permafrost, 17,000 cubic meters of materials, and instead we have frozen soil and layer by layer of cooling pipes.”
After a reconstruction cost of $11.7 million, double the project’s initial price, the seed bank was eventually stabilized. The rapidly changing conditions in Svalbard, however, highlight how the the seeds inside the vault could become needed sooner than expected.