The Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, Norway, was built on the icy archipelago for good reason: the seeds stored within it need to be kept at Arctic temperatures to remain viable when they aren’t buried in the ground. Unfortunately, a rapidly changing climate has now placed the entire concept at risk.
According to Gizmodo, it’s the permafrost that makes its home on the mountain that has kept the some 1 million seeds stored in the vault all these years in viable condition. That permafrost has helped to keep the temperature of the vault, also known as the Doomsday Vault, at a crisp 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
Unfortunately, climate change is causing those in charge of the vault, the Norwegian government, Crop Trust, and the Nordic Genetic Resource Center, some serious concern. With temperatures in the region having risen by 5 degrees in less than the past half a century, that permafrost has started to melt.
The result is millions of dollars being put into the vault’s maintenance and some upgrades in an attempt to maintain those arctic conditions for which it was built. The vault has also been visited by a flood scare in the past few years as a result of climate change, with the permafrost seeping into the vault as it melted.
One of the reasons the freezing cold region was chosen as the location for the vault is the permafrost, as it keeps the seeds at the optimal temperature in case the electrical supply and cooling systems should fail.
Sadly, with the predictions that temperatures will continue to rise, the vault is in serious danger. Temperatures are expected to rise a further 10 degrees before the year 2100, and even allowing for the slowing of the release of greenhouse gases, Svalbard will still see an increase of 7 degrees.
What sounds like a small change could be absolutely catastrophic for the vault, as the permafrost will continue to melt around it, leaving potential for more flooding inside the vault that could jeopardize the seeds inside it. With hotter temperatures, less snow can be expected to fall, with more rain coming to the area as well. This will result in a greater likelihood of both mudslides and avalanches.
“The air temperature in Svalbard has increased by 3 to 5°C during the last 4 to 5 decades. In the later years, there have been episodes of heavy rainfall during winter. Fjords along the west coast have become ice free most of the year. The permafrost has warmed considerably, and there have been a number of avalanches in and near Longyearbyen,” the report released by the Norwegian government states.
It’s a sad irony that the vault which was created to protect the world’s food supply in case of environmental disaster may well be destroyed by an environmental disaster.